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Economy in Brief

U.S. March Retail Sales Remained Weak 
by Tom Moeller April 14, 2008

U.S. retail sales during March increased a modest 0.2% after a 0.4% decline during February. The February drop was a bit shallower than the -0.6% reported last month due to a lessening of that month's decline in sales of motor vehicles & parts. On a three month basis overall retail sales rose a negligible 0.7% through (AR) March. No change in March sales had been the consensus expectation.

Sales of motor vehicles & parts ticked up just 0.2% (-3.5% y/y) following February's revised 1.4% downdraft.

During March, retail sales excluding autos ticked up just 0.1% last month and reversed a little revised 0.1% February dip. So far this year the gain in nonauto retail sales amounted to 1.8% (AR) following a 4.5% rise last year. A 0.1 % uptick in nonauto sales had been the consensus expectation.

Retail sales less gasoline & autos fell very slightly and were up 1.3% from a year earlier. On a three month basis these sales are roughly unchanged following the 4.4% rise last year. Sales at gasoline service stations rose 1.1% (18.9% y/y).

Sales of discretionary items remained quite weak. Furniture, home furnishings & appliance store sales fell 0.4% (-3.2% y/y). The level of these sales peaked last November and has fallen 4.0% since. Sales of electronics & appliances fell 0.4% (+1.2% y/y) after no change in February which initially was reported as a slight decline. Apparel store sales fell by 0.5% (-1.6% y/y) after a 0.9% (-1.6% y/y) February decline. These sales peaked last July and have since fallen 2.3%. Sales at general merchandise stores fell 0.6% (-0.0% y/y) and are 0.7% off last December's peak.

Building materials & garden equipment sales dropped another 1.6% (-6.9% y/y) and since their peak early in 2006 these sales are down 9.6%.

March sales of nonstore retailers (internet & catalogue) were one of the only areas of strength and they posted a firm 2.1% (8.7% y/y) increase after upwardly revised, slight increases in the prior two months.

Food & beverage store sales rose 0.3% (3.9% y/y) last month.

Senior Supervisors Group Releases Report on Disclosure Practices from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York can be found here.

  March February Y/Y 2007 2006 2005
Retail Sales & Food Services 0.2% -0.4% 2.0% 4.0% 6.2% 6.6%
  Excluding Autos 0.1% -0.1% 3.3% 4.5% 7.4% 7.6%
    Less Gasoline -0.0% -0.1% 1.3% 4.4% 7.2% 6.6%
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