NEW YORK (AP) -- Consumers continued to shop cautiously in March amid high unemployment and continued home foreclosures, but there were some glimmers of stabilization in retailer's sales reports on Thursday.
The later Easter hurt some chains' results -- notably Wal-Mart Stores Inc. -- but Easter is expected to boost sales for many in April.
Retailers have been slashing costs and cutting inventory in an effort to improve results amid weak consumer spending. Consumer spending is closely watched by economists and analysts because it accounts for 70 percent of all U.S. economic activity.
"It looks like the whole 'less worse' phenomenon continues in March," said Ken Perkins, president of Retail Metrics LLC. "The numbers are still soft, but at least they're stabilizing and maybe improving a little bit."
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer, said same-store sales rose 1.4 percent, excluding fuel sales, falling short of the 3.2 percent rise analysts polled by Thomson Reuters predicted. The world's largest retailer said a later Easter was to blame but said April sales are likely to be boosted by the holiday.
Same-store sales are sales at stores open at least a year and are a key measure of a retailer's health.
Wal-Mart said it expects first-quarter results will be at the high end of its predicted range of 72 cents to 77 cents per share. Analysts predict a profit of 76 cents per share.
Discount retailer Target Stores Inc.'s same-store sales fell 6.3 percent, better than the 7.4 percent decline analysts predicted.
Warehouse operator Costco Wholesale Corp. said same-store sales fell more than analysts expected. But the figure rose after adjusting for plunging gas prices and the stronger dollar. Food purchases helped results.
Gap Inc. beat analysts predictions, helped by better results from its Old Navy chain, which it has been trying to turn around. Same-stores sales fell 8 percent, while analysts predicted a 9.9 percent drop.
Teen retail remained a bright spot. The Buckle Inc. and Hot Topic Inc. both reported higher results than analysts predicted.