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Economy in Brief

U.S. Retail Sales Gain Is Widespread
by Tom Moeller  April 13, 2011

Total retail & food service sales rose by 0.4% last month following a 1.1% February increase, revised up from 1.0%. Sales have risen for nine consecutive months and the latest increase left the y/y gain firm at 7.1%. The March rise roughly matched Consensus expectations for a 0.5% gain, according to the Action Economics survey. Lately, forward momentum in sales has picked up. During the last three months, sales rose at a 9.4% annual rate versus a 6.5% increase during all of last year. Excluding autos, sales rose 0.8% last month after an upwardly revised 1.1% February gain. The increase roughly matched expectations for a 0.7% rise. During the last three months, nonauto sales rose at a 12.0% annual rate after a 5.7% increase last year.

Strength in retail purchases occurred despite the lackluster performance of auto sales. Motor vehicle sales fell 1.7% last month and reversed a 1.0% February increase, revised down from 2.3%. The decline is consistent with the 2.4% drop in unit motor vehicle sales reported earlier this month. In addition, higher prices pulled sales of gasoline service stations up another 2.6% after a 2.4% February gain, double the advance estimate. Excluding autos and gasoline, retail sales rose 0.5% in March and at a 6.6% annual rate during the last three months.

Discretionary spending firmed further. Sales of furniture, home furnishings and appliances jumped 2.8% and at a 19.0% annual rate during the last three months. March sales at furniture stores surged 3.6% while sales at electronics & appliance stores increased 2.1%. March clothing store sales rose 0.6% and at a 14.5% rate during the last three months. Finally, sales at general merchandise outlets increased 0.4% and at a 7.1% annual rate since December. Building material store sales rose 2.2% after two months of poor sales related to severe winter weather. Also consumers' appetite for eating out returned as sales at food service & drinking places rose 1.0% and at a 13.7% over the last three months. Store shopping precluded catalogue sales which slipped 0.3% (+12.4% y/y) and reversed a slim 0.3% February increase. Currently, sales by electronic shopping & mail-order houses account for roughly ten percent of nonauto retail sales less building materials & gasoline.

The retail sales figure are available in Haver's USECON database. The Action Economics figures are in the AS1REPNA database.

Retail Spending (%) Mar Feb Jan Mar Y/Y 2010 2009 2008
Total Retail Sales & Food Services 0.4 1.1 0.8 7.1 6.5 -6.4 -1.0
  Excluding Autos 0.8 1.1 0.9 6.5 5.7 -5.1 2.3
Retail Sales 0.3 1.0 0.8 7.3 6.9 -7.1 -1.4
   Motor Vehicle & Parts -1.7 1.0 0.2 10.0 10.3 -12.1 -13.9
 Retail excluding Autos 0.8 1.0 1.0 6.7 6.1 -5.9 2.3
   Gasoline 2.6 2.4 2.1 16.7 16.2 -24.7 9.9
 Non-Auto Less Gasoline 0.5 0.7 0.8 5.1 4.7 -2.4 1.0
Food Service 1.0 1.8 0.3 5.1 2.8 0.5 2.4
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