CHICAGO (Dow Jones) -- The nation's largest retailers mostly recovered in May after April's disastrous sales, but the results reported Thursday were choppy and provided evidence that the consumer is tightening her purse strings.
With 33 of 50 retailers reporting at Thomson Financial, half missed expectations of same-store sales results, the industry's growth benchmark of receipts rung up at stores open longer than a year.
Only 2% met forecasts while another 43% beat them.
"This month is really a store-to-store and operating-execution issue rather than a broad-based story," said Ken Perkins, president of Retail Metrics. " People were out shopping at their favorite stores."
But those with operational issues like Ann Taylor Corp. (ANN) continued to suffer.
For the most part, retailers bounced back from April weakness brought on by an uncomfortable combination of rain, cold weather, higher energy prices and an absence of Easter spending -- which came in March this year.
"The consumer is holding up relatively well with all things considered," Perkins said, pointing to higher energy prices and economic concerns, "but the trend is there with comparable-store sales slowing."
Costco Wholesale (COST) delivered a better-than-expected 7% sales rise -- ahead of the 5.6% estimate - amid higher gas prices and better foreign-currency translations.
Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) got a small boost from higher gas prices with same-store sales rising 1.3% with fuel sales added in. Without them, same-store sales inched up 1.1%, missing the 1.4% forecast at Thomson Financial. This is the first time the retail behemoth has separated the numbers.