The nation's big retailers report weak sales for April, but industry analysts said the results partly reflected the early arrival of Easter and that consumers are still in a shopping mood.

Consumers did much of their holiday buying in March, siphoning off business that normally would show up in April. Retailers consider March and April sales combined in assessing how well they doing.Looking at the results from both months, "sales are in line to a little better than plan," or expectations, said Jeffrey Edelman, a retail industry analyst with C.J. Lawrence Inc., a New York investment firm.

Consumers have become more comfortable with spending on clothing, furniture and other non-essentials as the economy has shown continuing signs of improving. That is expected to help the economic recovery gain more momentum, since consumer spending creates more demand for manufactured goods.

But some retailers said their April performance was worse than expected.

"They were below our expectations and prior trend," said Federated Department Stores Inc. chair-man Allen Questrom.

The Salomon Brothers retail index, the investment firm's barometer of sales performance, rose 3.3 percent after an 11.1 percent gain in March. In April 1993, the index rose 2.6 percent.

Jeffrey Feiner, a Salomon analyst, said the index for March and April combined was a healthy 7.4 percent. He expected retailers to continue posting good gains, particuarly since consumer demand for apparel has picked up after a long dry spell.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the nation's largest retailer, said sales from stores open at least a year rose 8 percent from last April, while total sales were up 24 percent.

Sales from stores open at least a year, known as same-store sales, are considered the most accurate measure of a retailer's strength. They exclude the results of newer stores, where sales tend to be unusually high. Same-store sales also exclude results from stores closed over the past year.

Kmart Corp. said its same-store sales fell 1.6 percent, while overall business was up 2.9 percent.

Sears, Roebuck and Co. said same-store sales advanced 12.3 percent and overall sales rose 12.4 percent.

Dayton Hudson Corp. said same-store sales rose 2 percent while overall business was up 7.6 percent. The company owns department store, the Target discount chain and the Mervyn's clothing chain.

J.C. Penney Co. Inc. said same-store sales at its flagship stores fell 2.1 percent, while total sales, including its drugstore and catalog operations, rose 1 percent.

Limited Inc. reported same-store sales fell 8 percent while overall business fell 2.9 percent. Gap Inc. said same-store sales were unchanged, while total sales rose 10 percent.