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) --


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and other retail stocks will be in the spotlight Thursday as the group will be releasing same-store sales results for March, which are expected to be the strongest in three years.


Thomson Reuters

same-store sales index is expected to post a 6.3% increase for March, compared with a 5% rise in March 2009. That would be the best showing since a 7.6% jump in March 2007. Meanwhile, the

International Council of Shopping Centers

expects March to see the best sales results since 1994.

Discount and department stores, such as

BJ's Wholesale

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Costco Wholesale

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, are expected to perform best.

Meanwhile, teen/child apparel stores like

Abercrombie & Fitch

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Wet Seal

( WTSLA) are expected to see positive comparable store numbers after a very weak March 2009 showing.

Jharonne Martis, director of consumer research at

Thomson Reuters

, said the sharp increase in March sales was fueled by Easter shopping, warm weather, and improved consumer confidence

"Consumers have been in a restrained spending mode for several months, but improved consumer confidence is prompting shoppers to loosen the purse strings after two years," Martis wrote in a sales preview Wednesday. "Historically, when unemployment is high, consumer confidence remains low. Yet, we saw an improvement in consumer sentiment in March."

Investors will also be watching for a handful of earnings reports, with

Pier One Imports

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Joe's Jeans




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set to post results Thursday.

On the economic front, Thursday will bring the Labor Departments weekly read on initial jobless claims, which is expected to show a decline to 435,000 claims from 439,000 the week before. The report is due at 8:30 a.m. EDT.

-- Written by Robert Holmes in Boston


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