Retailers report solid demand in January, despite blizzards

NEW YORK — Americans didn't stop splurging after the holidays. They braved snowstorms and shopped in force in January, giving retailers like Macy's surprisingly strong sales.

Luxury merchants Nordstrom and Saks also were bright spots as the affluent, encouraged by the rallying stock market, continue to lead the spending recovery.

The International Council of Shopping Centers index of 32 stores showed a robust 4.8 percent increase for January, well above the 1.5 percent to 2 percent range projected earlier in the week. January's pace was above the 3.1 percent gain in December and capped retailers' fiscal year that averaged a 3.5 percent increase.

The figures are based on revenue at stores opened at least a year for Jan. 2 through last Saturday. It is considered a key indicator of a retailer's health because it excludes the effects of stores that open or close during the year.

"Retailers weathered the storm both literally and figuratively," said Michael P. Niemira, chief economist at the International Council of Shopping Centers. "It is a signal that underlying consumer demand is pretty solid."

Among the notable stragglers was Target, which had a 1.7 percent increase in revenue at stores opened at least a year, slightly below the 1.9 percent gain that Wall Street projected. This marked the second consecutive month of disappointing results.

CEO and Chairman Gregg Steinhafel said business was particularly weak in the South and Northeast, regions hit hard by snowstorms. He said Target is still counting on expanded food sections and its 5 percent discount for those who pay with its credit or debit card to drive increases this year.

J.C. Penney reported an unexpected revenue decline; officials blamed lower levels of winter clearance compared with last January, as well as bad weather.

January is the least important month of the year for retailers because they use the month to clear out winter goods to make room for spring merchandise.