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Economy in Brief

U.S. Retail Sales Rebound Is Broad-Based
by Tom Moeller  April 18, 2019

Total retail sales increased 1.6% during March following a 0.2% February dip. It was the largest monthly increase since September 2017. The 3.6% y/y sales pace, however, remained down from growth during 2018 and 2017. A 0.9% March rise had been expected in the Action Economics Forecast Survey.

A 3.1% increase (3.8% y/y) in sales of motor vehicle & parts was part of last months' sales strength after easing 0.1% during February. This compared to unit sales of motor vehicles which increased 5.3% during March. Excluding motor vehicles and parts, retail sales rose 1.2% (3.6% y/y) after slipping 0.2%. A 0.7% rise had been expected.

A measure of the underlying pace of retail spending is nonauto sales growth excluding gasoline and building materials. These sales surged 1.0% (3.7% y/y) during March after a 0.2% decline. These sales also increased 1.5% during January.

Strength in sales was broad-based last month. Clothing store sales rebounded 2.0% (1.5% y/y) following three straight months of sharp decline. Home furnishings store sales increased 1.7% (1.1% y/y) after a 0.8% rise. Sales via the internet strengthened 1.2% (11.6% y/y) for the second consecutive month. Electronics & appliance store sales rose 0.5% (-2.7% y/y) following 1.4% drop. General merchandise store sales gained 0.7% (1.9% y/y) after a 0.3% fall. Sales of building material stores improved 0.3% (3.3% y/y) after a 4.4% shortfall. Weakening by 0.3% (-9.7% y/y) were sales at sporting goods, hobby shops, book & music stores after a 0.3% gain.

Higher prices lifted sales at gasoline service stations by 3.5% (3.1% y/y) for the second consecutive month.

Sales of nondiscretionary items improved last month. Food & beverage store sales rebounded 1.0% (1.8% y/y) after a 1.9% decline. Health & personal care product store sales rose 0.2% (4.4% y/y) following a 0.6% increase.

Restaurant & drinking establishment sales  increased 0.8% (4.3% y/y) after a 0.3% gain.

The retail sales data can be found in Haver's USECON database. The Action Economics forecast is in the AS1REPNA database.

Retail Spending (% chg) Mar Feb Jan Mar Y/Y 2018 2017 2016
Total Retail Sales & Food Services 1.6 -0.2 0.8 3.6 4.9 4.7 2.9
  Excluding Autos 1.2 -0.2 1.4 3.6 5.5 4.7 2.5
Retail Sales 1.7 -0.3 0.8 3.5 4.7 5.0 2.5
  Motor Vehicle & Parts 3.1 -0.1 -1.8 3.8 2.7 4.9 4.3
 Retail Less Autos 1.2 -0.3 1.6 3.5 5.4 5.0 2.0
  Gasoline Stations 3.5 3.5 -1.7 3.1 12.9 9.4 -5.8
Food Service & Drinking Places Sales 0.8 0.3 0.4 4.3 6.1 3.1 5.2
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