Retail sales are up in March, reports Commerce and NRF

Gladys Abbott
April 17, 2018

In February, sales dropped 0.1% after a 0.2% drop in January and a 0.1% decline in December.

USA retail sales rose for the first time in four months in March, boosted by a large increase in automobile purchases, but in real terms were weaker than expected by some economists.

Sales at retailers slipped in the first two months of this year as consumers pulled back after heavy spending during the winter holidays.

March retail sales increased 0.3% seasonally adjusted over February and 5% year-over-year as the economy continued to grow, according to figures from the National Retail Federation (NRF). Excluding autos, sales were up just 0.2 percent.

It looks like vehicle sales helped the bump.

Consumers shook off stormy weather last month to deliver retail sales growth.

Grocery and beverage stores were up 5.9% year-over-year and up 0.2% from February. Last month's pick-up in core retail sales will do little to change expectations of a sharp slowdown in consumer spending in the first quarter. Year-over-year core sales increased 4.5%.

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Economists largely blame the weakness in retail sales at the start of the year on delays in processing tax refunds. Compared with March 2017, the total is 4.7 percent higher. Home improvement and clothing stores saw sales fall in March.

Thus, following Monday's report, Barclays's tracking estimate for first quarter US GDP growth fell from an annualised pace of 1.8% to 1.5%. Receipts at service stations fell 0.3 percent, reflecting cheaper gasoline.

Building materials and garden supply stores were up 3.8% year-over-year but down 0.6% from February seasonally adjusted. Sales at restaurants and bars gained 0.4 percent.

The March numbers, which exclude automobiles, gasoline stations, and restaurants, include a 7.6% rise year-over-year in online and other non-store sales, which were up 0.8% on February seasonally adjusted.

Sporting goods stores were down 0.9% year-over-year and down 1.8% from February seasonally adjusted.

Mark Frissora, chief executive at Caesars Entertainment Corp., told analysts on the phone that the "strong labor market, buoyant consumer confidence and the recent tax cuts offer a favorable outlook for spending patterns".

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