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Retail sales up 2.1%; consumers buy food, gas with rebates

U.S. retail sales rose 2.1 percent last week compared with a year earlier, as customers used rebate checks to buy food and gasoline.

June same-store sales may rise as much as 3 percent, the International Council of Shopping Centers reiterated Tuesday in a statement.

Consumers battered by still-climbing fuel prices and unemployment have cut shopping trips and stuck to buying basics. Many are using rebate checks being sent to more than 130 million U.S. households to visit discount chains such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. The checks helped total May retail sales rise twice as much as forecast, the Commerce Department said last week.

“The rebate checks might be a short-term stimulus,” Mark Samson, a managing director at Getzler Henrich, a New York consulting and restructuring firm, said Monday in an interview. In the long term, the blue-collar worker has to “continue budgeting and it’s tough,” he said.

Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, rose 13 cents to $59.31 yesterday in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. Before today, the shares gained 25 percent this year, while the 30-member Standard & Poor’s 500 Retailing Index fell 2.8 percent.

Membership warehouse stores including Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Clubs and Costco Wholesale Corp. have drawn shoppers seeking cheaper food and fuel prices. Gasoline reached a record $4.08 a gallon yesterday, 36 percent higher than a year earlier, according to the AAA motor club.

The number of Americans filing first-time claims for unemployment benefits reached a 10-week high in the week ended June 7, rising 25,000 to 384,000, the Labor Department said June 12.

Many retailers will report June same-store sale results on July 10.

BEST BUY PROFIT OFF 7 PERCENT

Best Buy says its profit fell 7 percent in its first quarter but it still beat Wall Street’s expectations because of a lower share count and a rise in revenue.

The Minneapolis-based electronics retailer says net income dipped to $179 million, or 43 cents per share, from $192 million, or 39 cents per share. The per-share figure is based on fewer shares outstanding.

Thomson Financial says analysts expected profit of 37 cents per share.

Best Buy says revenue jumped 13 percent to $8.99 billion from $7.93 billion. Analysts expected $8.57 billion.

The company expects adjusted profit of $3.25 to $3.40 per share and revenue of $43 billion to $44 billion in fiscal 2009. Analysts see profit of $3.26 per share and revenue of $43.9 billion.

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