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Retail sales edge up in July

BY Dan Berthiaume

Washington, D.C. — U.S. retail sales edged up 0.2% in July from June, according to figures from the Department of Commerce. This followed a 0.6% month-over-month boost in sales in June, driven by strong auto sales. The slower sales uptick reflected a drop in purchases of automobiles, along with furniture and electronics.

Core retail sales excluding auto, gasoline and building materials retailers increased 0.5% in July compared to the previous month. But gasoline sales rose 0.9%, partly resulting from higher prices, and overall retail sales would have only increased 0.1% with gasoline figures excluded.

Retail categories that performed well in July included clothing stores (up 0.9%) and grocery stores and restaurants (0.6% at each). Sales fell 1.4% at furniture stores.

“Spending has stalled and the economy is stuck in neutral,” said National Retail Federation chief economist Jack Kleinhenz. “Even with modest employment gains and steady consumer confidence, Americans remain in a cautiously-positive spending pattern. While clothing and sporting goods retailers saw modest gains with early back-to-school shopping, home-based retailers saw marked decreases, possibly indicating the end of the year-long housing boom.”


Findings from the July retail sales report include:

  • Building material, garden equipment and supplies dealers stores’ sales decreased 0.4% seasonally adjusted yet increased 9.8% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Clothing and clothing accessories stores’ sales increased 0.9% seasonally adjusted month-to-month and increased 5.3% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Electronics and appliance stores’ sales decreased 0.1% seasonally adjusted month-to-month yet increased 0.8% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Furniture and home furnishing stores’ sales decreased 1.4% seasonally adjusted month-to-month yet increased 5.1% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • General merchandise stores’ sales increased 0.4% seasonally adjusted month-to-month and increased 1.3% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Health and personal care stores’ sales increased 0.7% seasonally adjusted month-to-month and increased 3.3% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores’ sales increased 1.0% seasonally adjusted month-to-month and increased 3.9% unadjusted year-over-year.

Click here to read Sterne Agee chief economist Lindsey M. Piegza’s comments on the July retail sales gain.

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Report: Wal-Mart unit seeks 67% stake in Kenyan chain

BY Dan Berthiaume

Bentonville, Ark. — Wal-Mart’s South African subsidiary Massmart Holdings Ltd reportedly seeks a 67% ownership stake in Kenyan retail chain Naivas Supermarkets Ltd. According to Bloomberg, which on Monday reported Naivas was one of several possible Kenyan chains eyed by Massmart for possible expansion, serious talks with Naivas have occurred.

Bloomberg quotes a Naivas executive as saying talks have been occurring on and off for about a year and half and broke off in April 2013 due to disagreements on a purchase price. Massmart’s interest in acquiring Naivas have also reportedly caused disagreement among investors in the family-owned chain about whether they should sell their shares or not.

Wal-Mart has acknowledged a general interest in expanding into Kenya but declined to comment on any specific companies it may be interested in buying.

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Office Depot extends olive branch to Starboard

BY Dan Berthiaume

Boca Raton, Fla. — Office Depot is making a public offer to its largest shareholder, Starboard Value LLP, to settle a dispute about who should serve on its board of directors. In a press release, Office Depot said that if CEO Selection Committee members Tom Colligan and Marsha Evans are re-elected, the company would immediately invite to its board of directors any of the three Starboard nominees recommended by proxy advisory firms Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) and Glass Lewis who are not elected.

Starboard is recommending its own slate of nominees for election at the Office Depot annual meeting which will be held Aug. 21. Starboard has voiced concerns about the direction of the planned Office Depot-OfficeMax merger, expected to close by the end of this year. Office Depot says that if Starboard accepts its compromise the board will increase its size, as required, immediately following the annual shareholders meeting to accommodate the additional director nominees recommended by the two advisory firms.

“We have listened carefully to Office Depot shareholders and understand that they are supportive of adding new perspectives to the board,” said Neil Austrian, chairman and CEO of Office Depot. “At the same time, shareholders are also telling us that they do not want this election to impede the progress made by the CEO Selection Committee, which includes director nominees Marsha Evans and Tom Colligan. We believe that maintaining the integrity of the Selection Committee and the progress they have made are of paramount importance.”

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