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March Retail Sales Gains Are Very Encouraging

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

“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% 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%.

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% 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% and 4.4% 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% 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.

About the National Retail Federation

The National Retail Federation, the world’s largest retail trade association, passionately advocates for the people, brands, policies, and ideas that help retail thrive. From its headquarters in Washington, D.C., NRF empowers the industry that powers the economy. Retail is the nation’s largest private-sector employer, contributing $2.6 trillion to annual GDP and supporting one in four U.S. jobs – 42 million working Americans. For over a century, NRF has been a voice for every retailer and every retail job, educating, inspiring, and communicating the powerful impact retail has on local communities and global economies.

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