Retail Sales Rose 0.6% in March

Daniel Fowler
April 17, 2018

Economists largely blame the weakness in retail sales at the start of the year on delays in processing tax refunds.

The numbers: Sales at US retailers rose 0.6% in March to end a streak of three straight declines, the Commerce Department reported Monday (https://www.census.gov/retail/marts/www/marts_current.pdf), underscoring the improved financial picture of American households and the resiliency of an economic expansion that could turn out to be the longest ever. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal expected a 0.3% increase.

Retail sales in America grew by 0.6% in March after three straight months of declines.

Closely watched core retail sales, which exclude automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services, rose by 0.4 percent in March after coming in unchanged in February. Home improvement and clothing stores saw sales fall in March. Retail sales in March increased 4.5 per cent from a year ago.

The modest increase in ex-auto sales partly reflected a 1.4 percent spike in sales by health and personal care stores.

The relatively weak spending has kept estimates for economic growth in check, with analysts forecasting before Monday's report that gross domestic product expanded at a 2.2 percent annualized pace in the January-March period, down from 2.9 percent in the previous quarter.

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Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of USA economic activity, grew at a robust 4.0 percent annualized rate in the fourth quarter. Gas-station sales dropped 0.3 percent, the most since July, according to the Commerce report.

"This is a healthy spending report despite market volatility, unseasonable weather and uncertain economic policies", NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said in a statement.

"At the macro level, we're seeing both positive trends in consumer sentiment and spending", Mr. Frissora said. March snapped a three-month stretch of sequential declines for monthly retail sales. Moves in that category often reflect changes in fuel prices.

What happened: Auto dealers posted their best month since last September. Also up for the month, each by less than 1 percent, were furniture stores, electronics stores. grocery stores, restaurants and of course non-store (Internet) sales, which were up 0.8 percent. Spending at building-material and clothing stores fell.

Economists polled by MarketWatch had forecast a 0.4% increase in sales.

Online and other non-store sales were up 7.6 percent year-over-year and up 0.8 percent over February, seasonally adjusted.

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