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Retailers report strong gains for June

NEW YORK — June sales heated up for stores, in a sign that Americans probably will continue to spend during the important back-to-school shopping season.

US retailers reported their strongest sales gains since January, as shoppers, enticed by warm weather and an improving economy, took advantage of summer discounts.

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Revenue at stores opened at least a year — an industry measure of a retailer’s health — rose 3.9 percent in June compared with the same month a year ago, according to a preliminary tally of 12 retailers by the International Council of Shopping Centers. The mall trade group had expected an increase of 3 to 3.5 percent.

The data, released Thursday, offers positive signs for the back-to-school season, which is the second-biggest shopping period behind the Christmas holidays season. June is when stores clear out summer merchandise to make room for goods for fall, so brisk sales mean that stores probably will not be stuck with piles of summer clothes that they need to get rid of as the back-to-school season begins later this month.

June’s performance was its best performance since January’s 4.5 percent gain and showed a gradual improvement since early this spring. The tally was up 3.4 percent in May and 3 percent in April.

Going forward, Michael P. Niemira, chief economist at the International Council of Shopping Centers, expects that total sales for the back-to-school season, which runs from mid-July through mid-September, will be up a solid 3.1 percent to $42.2 billion. That would be less than the 3.6 percent gain in 2011, but in line with the 3.3 percent pace on average during the past decade.

Stores are benefiting from an improving economy that has gained a robust 195,000 jobs in June. Employers have added an average 202,000 jobs for the past six months, up from 180,000 in the previous six. The housing market is also gaining strength. And consumer confidence in June is at the highest level since January 2008, according to the Conference Board.

‘‘The reports are encouraging,’’ Niemira said. ‘‘We had seen consumers pull back a little earlier this year, but now there’s a willingness to spend. It adds to the flavor of the other economic data out there that looks better.’’

Indeed, while big chains such as Walmart Stores, Target Corp., and Macy’s Inc. no longer report monthly revenue, the stores that do offer economists a snapshot of consumer spending habits. In total, retailers that give monthly data represent 6 percent of the $2.4 trillion in US retail industry sales.

One of the retailers that reported monthly revenue is Stein Mart, a store chain that sells everyday low prices on top brands. The retailer said June revenue at stores open at least a year climbed 6.5 percent, driven by strong sales of women’s clothing. Analysts had expected a 4 percent increase.

Stein Mart had the biggest gains in women’s casual sportswear and boutique items.

Costco also was among the retailers that posted a revenue jump in June. The wholesale-club operator said revenue at stores open at least a year climbed 6 percent, over Wall Street’s expectations.

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