Gain in March an indication that consumer weakness may be fading
U.S. retail sales rose by more than expected in March in the first gain in four months, suggesting consumer demand regained steam on the back of tax cuts and refunds.
Receipts advanced 0.6 percent following a 0.1 percent drop in the previous month, according to Commerce Department figures released Monday. That compared with the median estimate of economists for a 0.4 percent increase. So-called retail control-group sales, which are used to calculate gross domestic product and exclude food services, auto dealers, building-materials stores and gasoline stations, gained 0.4 percent, matching estimates.
The i mprovement i n demand went beyond a bump in auto sales, as consumers went shopping at furniture and home stores along with electronics- and appliance-sellers. The results underscore that the declines from December to February were more of a pause following a post-hurricane spending binge.
“It’s nice to see the bounceback here — to me it’s just on trend,” Societe Generale senior U.S. economist Omair Sharif said. “If you look at the quarter as a whole, we’re not breaking out from the kind of real spending numbers we’ve seen the last several years.”
Eight of 13 major retail categories showed increases. Sales at health and personal-care stores rose 1.4 percent, the most in two years. Auto sales rose 2 percent, the most since September; a report last week showed purchases of cars and light trucks rose to a 17.4 million annualized rate in March, the fastest this year.
Weaker sales categories included building-materials stores, which fell 0.6 percent; apparel stores, down 0.8 percent; and sporting goods,hobby,bookandmusic stores, off 1.8 percent, the most since December, the data showed.