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Shoppers warily return to retailers

April retail sales figures offered more signs that consumers are starting to feel better about spending. But they are still keeping their budgets tight, sticking mostly to necessities such as groceries and health care products.

In a glimmer of hope for the broader economy, some mall-based clothing stores saw their declines stabilize and Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, reported some strength in housewares and other discretionary goods.

Among merchants that reported Thursday, Gap, American Eagle and Wet Seal posted smaller sales declines at their established locations than analysts had forecast. The Children’s Place, T.J. Maxx owner TJX Cos. Inc. and teen retailer the Buckle saw bigger gains than expected. But luxury stores again were hard hit as their higher-end wares find fewer takers.

Sales at stores open at least a year, or same-store sales, rose 0.7 percent last month, the first overall increase in six months, a tally by Goldman Sachs and the International Council of Shopping Centers found.

Detroit

GM posts loss of $5.9 billion

General Motors, facing the prospect of bankruptcy, posted a loss of $5.9 billion for the first three months of this year as revenue continued to slide because of the economic crisis and slump in auto sales.

GM’s losses were offset somewhat by the company’s restructuring efforts and by an infusion of loans from the federal government, the automaker said Thursday.

GM has until the end of the month to cut costs further and win stakeholder concessions. If it fails, the government will likely force it into bankruptcy.

GM lost $9.78 per share, compared with a loss of $5.80 per share, or $3.3 billion, a year earlier.

Revenue fell 47 percent to $22.4 billion, compared with revenue of $42.4 billion in the same quarter last year, as GM cut production. Ray Young, GM’s chief financial officer, warned that such a drop could be dangerous.

“Once you start losing revenue, you get yourself into a vicious circle in which you cannot recover,” he said.

Washington

New claims decline for jobless benefits

New applications for jobless benefits plunged to the lowest level in 14 weeks, a possible sign that the massive wave of layoffs has peaked. Still, the number of unemployed workers getting benefits climbed to a new record.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that the number of newly laid off workers applying for benefits dropped to 601,000 last week. That was far better than the rise to 635,000 claims that economists expected.

But the total number of people receiving jobless benefits climbed to 6.35 million, a 14th straight record.

The four-week moving average of initial jobless claims, which smooths out volatility, totaled 623,500 last week, a decrease of more than 30,000 from the high in early April.

Redmond, Wash.

Nintendo projects stagnant sales

Nintendo, the sales powerhouse of the current generation of video game consoles, Thursday projected stagnant or declining sales for its Wii and DS systems.

Nintendo said it expects to sell 26 million Wii consoles and 30 million DS hand-held consoles during its current fiscal year, which started April 1. The Japanese company sold 26 million Wiis and 31 million DS units last fiscal year, ended March 31.

On the bright side, Nintendo said software sales for those devices were likely to increase, thanks to the growing number of consoles in people’s homes. The company projects it will sell 220 million Wii games this year, up from 204 million last year.

From wire reports

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