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Economy in Brief

U.S. Retail Sales Rise With Higher Gasoline Prices in March
by Tom Moeller  April 14, 2022

• Individual categories are mostly firm.

• Online sales fall sharply.

• Vehicle sales decline.

Consumer spending growth remains moderate. Total retail sales including food service and drinking establishments increased 0.5% during March (6.9% y/y) after rising 0.8% in February, revised from 0.3%. A 0.6% sales increase had been expected in the Action Economics Forecast Survey. Sales excluding motor vehicles and parts strengthened 1.1% (9.1% y/y) following a 0.6% February increase, revised from 0.2%. Expectations had been for a 0.9% increase.

Reflecting higher prices, gasoline service station sales surged 8.9% (37.0% y/y) after rising 6.7% in February. Gasoline prices rose 18.3% last month (48.0% y/y) as indicated in this week's CPI report.

Sales in the retail control group, which excludes autos, gas stations, building materials and food services, eased 0.1% in March (+4.4% y/y) after falling 0.9% during February, revised from -1.2%.

Elsewhere, there was improvement in sales. General merchandise store sales jumped 5.4% last month (5.2% y/y) after a 0.2% dip in February. Within that category, department store sales eased 0.3% (+7.4% y/y) after strong gains in the prior two months. Electronics & appliance store sales surged 3.3% (-9.7% y/y) following a 0.3% gain. Sporting goods, hobby and book store sales also jumped 3.3% (-5.1% y/y) last month, about the same as in February. Apparel store sales surged 2.6% (7.3% y/y) after rising 0.6%. Furniture & home furnishing store sales rose 0.7% (3.6% y/y) after increasing 2.7% in February. Building materials & garden equipment sales rose 0.5% last month (0.6% y/y) after a 0.9% February rise.

Weakness in retail sales last month reflected a 6.4% decline (+1.8% y/y) in purchases via the internet. Sales fell sharply in three of the last four months. Also falling were motor vehicle sales by 1.9% (-1.2% y/y) after rising 1.5% in February. Unit motor vehicle sales fell 4.6% last month (-23.7% y/y) after declining 6.6% in February.

In the nondiscretionary sales categories, food & beverage store sales surged 1.0% (8.4% y/y) during March  after falling 0.3% in February. Health & personal care store sales declined 0.3% (+1.4% y/y) after falling 0.6% in February.

Sales at restaurants & drinking establishments strengthened 1.0% in March (19.4% y/y) after rising 3.0% in February.

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

2021: The Year of High Inflation from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis is available here.

Retail Spending (% chg) Mar Feb Jan Mar Y/Y 2021 2020 2019
Total Retail Sales & Food Services 0.5 0.8 5.1 6.9 19.4 0.2 3.3
  Excluding Autos 1.1 0.6 4.6 9.1 18.4 0.3 3.4
Retail Sales 0.4 0.5 5.8 5.5 18.1 3.1 3.0
 Retail Less Autos 1.2 0.2 5.5 7.6 16.6 3.9 3.0
  Motor Vehicle & Parts -1.9 1.5 7.0 -1.2 23.3 0.2 2.9
  Food & Beverage Stores  1.0 -0.3 1.0 8.4 4.5 11.5 3.1
  Gasoline Service Stations 8.9 6.7 -1.0 37.0 36.3 -16.0 -1.7
Food Service & Drinking Places 1.0 3.0 -0.5 19.4 31.5 -19.6 5.6
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