Retail sales were up 1 percent in March seasonally adjusted from February and up 0.8 percent unadjusted year-over-year, the National Retail Federation said. The numbers exclude automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants.
The Commerce Department said that sales increased a seasonally adjusted 1.6 percent from February, the strongest increase since September 2017. The gains mark a sharp rebound from a lackluster period of sales dating back to December.
“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,” 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. Consumers were busy in March after weaker-than-expected spending earlier.”
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: “The change of seasons is always a factor because of the weather, and 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.”
As of March, the three-month moving average was up 2.6 percent over the same period a year ago. March’s results make up for a revised monthly loss of 0.8 percent seen in February and build on February’s year-over-year gain of 2.5 percent.
NRF’s numbers are based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which said today that overall March sales – including auto dealers, gas stations and restaurants – were up 1.6 percent seasonally adjusted from February and up 3.6 unadjusted year-over-year. The release of retail sales data for December through March has been delayed as the Bureau works through a backlog caused by the government shutdown earlier this year.
The results come as NRF’s preliminary forecast projects that retail sales during 2019 will increase between 3.8 percent and 4.4 percent to more than $3.8 trillion. The forecast is subject to revision as more data is released in the coming months.
Specifics from key retail sectors during March include:
- Online and other non-store sales were up 9.2 percent year-over-year and up 1.2 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
- Health and personal care stores were up 1.6 percent year-over-year and up 0.2 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
- General merchandise stores were down 0.5 percent year-over-year but up 0.7 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
- Building materials and garden supply stores were down 0.7 percent year-over-year but up 0.3 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
- Furniture and home furnishings stores were down 1 percent year-over-year but up 1.7 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
- Grocery and beverage stores were down 1.1 percent year-over-year but up 1 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
- Clothing and clothing accessory stores were down 2.6 percent year-over-year but up 2 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
- Electronics and appliance stores were down 4.1 percent year-over-year but up 0.5 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
- Sporting goods stores were down 10.8 percent year-over-year and down 0.3 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.