A late arrival of warm spring weather stunted business last month for many of the nation's biggest retailers, monthly sales data from leading store chains showed Thursday.

The sales results surprised many industry-watchers who had expected sales to bounce back after stagnating in March, largely from a calendar anomaly that placed the Easter holiday in April rather than March.

While two months does not make a trend, the sales data were inconsistent with the recent pattern of lavish spending by consumers feeling flush from a booming job market and stock market gains.

But cool damp weather in much of the country soured many consumers' appetite for seasonal goods, which usually boost sales around April. Consumers, often eager to buy summer clothes, garden equipment and recreational items in April, likely put off those purchases until May.

Analysts also said slower sales probably had little to do with higher interest rates or gyrations in the stock markets that sent the

Nasdaq

composite index plunging in early April.

Many large retailer chains, including

Sears, Roebuck & Co.

(S) - Get Report

,

May Department Stores

(MAY)

and

Federated Department Stores

(FD)

reported sales that fell below expectations.

One of the weakest performances came from

Kmart

(KM)

, which said that an April same-store sales slump would hurt the company's quarterly earnings. Kmart's same-store sales fell 0.8% from the prior April, while overall sales were up only 0.8%.

Same-store sales, or sales from stores open at least a year, are considered a more accurate barometer of a merchant's performance that overall sales, which includes results from new stores.

In contrast to Kmart, some general merchandise sellers were able to squeeze out double-digit sales growth. Wal-Mart reported that its same-store sales rose 10.9% from the prior April and total sales rose 28.4%. Target reported same-store sales up 11.1% and total sales up 17%.

Sales were also lower-than-expected for many retailers that focus on apparel sales and department stores that rely on clothing for a big portion of their sales. May Department Stores, which operates such retailers as

Filene's Basement

and

Lord & Taylor

, said same-store sales rose only 1.8%. Federated Department Stores, which operates

Bloomingdales

and

Macy's

, also saw a clothing-related slump in April, reporting a small 5.2% rise in same-store sales and 6.6% sales growth overall.

Gap

(GPS) - Get Report

also reported same-store sales growth, which reported a same-store sales gain of 7% sales growth and total sales up 20%, but the growth fell below earlier expectations, and Gap issued a warning that its quarterly earnings may fall short of analysts' forecasts.

Some clothing retailers, however, reported solid sales growth, such as

Limited

(LTD)

which reported that same-store sales rose 14% and total sales rose 4%.

Big general department stores also slumped.

J.C. Penney

(JCP) - Get Report

reported same-store sales rose 3.4% at its JCPenney stores and 4.7% total. Sears said same-store sales rose 2.4% and 3.7% total.