Consumers were busy in March after weaker-than-expected spending in the prior month.
Retail sales rose 1% in March seasonally adjusted from February and 0.8% unadjusted year-over-year, according to the National Retail Federation. The NRF numbers, which exclude automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants, are based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which said that overall March sales were up 1.6% seasonally adjusted from February and up 3.6% unadjusted year-over-year. That was the biggest increase since September 2017 and followed an unrevised 0.2% drop in February.
A Labor Department report released at the same time as the sales figures showed initial jobless claims fell last week to 192,000, the lowest since September 1969. Economists had projected an increase.
“March’s numbers are very encouraging and set the stage for improved expectations for the economy in the coming months, especially since the first quarter is typically weak,” said NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “These numbers boost first-quarter performance and suggest a strong consumer. It is clear that underlying consumer fundamentals including job and wage growth and healthy household balance sheets continue to support spending.”
Kleinhenz said the numbers could have been better if not for cold weather early in March and changes in the timing of two key religious holidays. “A later Easter and Passover this year mean holiday-related sales that took place in March last year won’t come until April this year, and sizably impact year-over-year comparisons,” he explained.
As of March, the three-month moving average was up 2.6% over the same period a year ago. March’s results make up for a revised monthly loss of 0.8% seen in February and build on February’s year-over-year gain of 2.5%. Monthly sales in 12 of 13 major retail categories increased, with only the sporting goods stores category registering a decline. Sales at clothing stores rose 2%, the most since May.
Specifics from key retail sectors during March include:
- Online and other non-store sales were up 9.2% year-over-year and up 1.2% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
- Health and personal care stores were up 1.6% year-over-year and up 0.2% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
- General merchandise stores were down 0.5% year-over-year but up 0.7% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
- Building materials and garden supply stores were down 0.7% year-over-year but up 0.3% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
- Furniture and home furnishings stores were down 1% year-over-year but up 1.7% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
- Grocery and beverage stores were down 1.1% year-over-year but up 1% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
- Clothing and clothing accessory stores were down 2.6% year-over-year but up 2% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
- Electronics and appliance stores were down 4.1% year-over-year but up 0.5% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
- Sporting goods stores were down 10.8% year-over-year and down 0.3% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.