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Economy in Brief

U.S. Retail Sales Decline Unexpectedly
by Tom Moeller  April 13, 2016

Consumers continue to spend cautiously. Total retail sales & spending at food services declined 0.3% (+1.7% y/y) during March following no change in February, last month reported as a 0.1% dip. The decline in sales compared to expectations for a 0.1% improvement in the Action Economics Forecast Survey.

Fewer motor vehicle purchases accounted for much of the weakness in total spending last month. The 2.1% sales decline (+1.4% y/y) was the fourth straight month of zero or no change m/m. It compares to a 5.5% decline (-3.3% y/y) in unit motor vehicle sales reported earlier this month. Excluding the decline in auto purchases, retail spending improved 0.2% (1.8% y/y) following two months of unchanged or declining sales. A 0.4% rise had been expected.

Retail sales alone eased 0.2% (+1.3% y/y), about as they did during the prior two months. Purchases other than autos improved, however, by 0.4% (1.2% y/y) after declining in the prior two months. Spending on building materials jumped 1.4% (10.8% y/y) for the second straight month. General merchandise store sales increased 0.5% (1.2% y/y), also following two months of decline. Sales at furniture & home furnishing stores improved 0.3% (3.4% y/y) after a 0.2% drop. Sporting goods, hobby shop, book & music store sales gained 0.2% (6.1% y/y) following little change over the prior two months. Purchases at electronic & appliance stores edged 0.1% higher (-2.1% y/y) for the third straight month. To the downside were apparel store sales which fell 0.9% (+0.1% y/y) after a 0.3% rise. Food service and drinking place sales declined 0.8% (+5.5% y/y) after a 1.8% jump. Sales at nonstore retailers eased 0.1% (+6.5% y/y) after a 0.1% gain.

In the non-discretionary sales components, food & beverage store sales remained unchanged (1.2% y/y) for a second month. Showing strength were sales at health & personal care stores which jumped 1.0% (6.3% y/y) after a 1.9% surge.

The retail sales figures are available in Haver's USECON database. The Action Economics figures are in the AS1REPNA database.

The Fed's latest Beige Book covering regional economic conditions can be found here.

Retail Spending (%) Mar Feb Jan Mar Y/Y 2015 2014 2013
Total Retail Sales & Food Services -0.3 0.0 -0.4 1.7 2.2 3.9 3.7
  Excluding Autos 0.2 0.0 -0.3 1.8 1.0 3.1 2.7
  Non-Auto Less Gasoline, Building Supplies & Food Services 0.1 0.1 0.3 2.7 3.0 3.3 2.7
Retail Sales -0.2 -0.2 -0.3 1.3 1.4 3.7 3.8
  Motor Vehicle & Parts -2.1 0.0 -0.5 1.4 7.0 7.5 8.3
 Retail Less Autos 0.4 -0.3 -0.2 1.2 -0.2 2.6 2.6
  Gasoline Stations 0.9 -5.4 -3.0 -15.6 -19.4 -2.7 -0.7
Food Service & Drinking Places Sales -0.8 1.8 -1.0 5.5 8.1 6.2 3.4
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