Auto rebound gives United States retail a bounce in March

Darnell Taylor
April 16, 2018

Total retail and food services sales increased 4.5% in March from March a year ago to $494.6 billion, and were up 0.6% from revised February sales.

Weaker sales categories included building-materials stores, which fell 0.6 percent; apparel stores, down 0.8 percent; and sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores, off 1.8 percent, the most since December, the data showed. These so-called core retail sales, which correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product, were previously reported to have risen 0.1 percent in February.

The modest increase in ex-auto sales partly reflected a 1.4 percent spike in sales by health and personal care stores.

Online retail sales increased 0.8 percent in March and have risen almost 10 percent compared to a year ago.

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Released at the same time, the April Empire Fed is forecast to slip to +18.6 from +22.5 but the market reaction will be driven by the retail sales report.

The US Commerce Department's Retail Sales report for March will be published at 8.30 am ET Monday.

Excluding the jump in auto sales, retail sales edged up by 0.2 percent in March, matching the uptick seen in the previous month as well as economist estimates. "People were so built up on the economy and tax cuts, but our view is that it's more steady than acceleration". Also up for the month, each by less than 1 percent, were furniture stores, electronics stores. grocery stores, restaurants and of course non-store (Internet) sales, which were up 0.8 percent. Sales at restaurants and bars gained 0.4 percent.

"This month's decline in the Empire State six-month forward index may reflect trade-related uncertainties and the associated volatility of stocks, or other factors", said Roiana Reid, an economist at Berenberg Capital Markets in NY.

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