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Economy in Brief

U.S. Retail Sales Decline in Both February and March
by Carol Stone, CBE  April 14, 2017

Total retail sales and spending at restaurants fell 0.2% (5.2% y/y) in March following a 0.3% decrease in February; that was revised from +0.1% reported initially. The Action Economics Forecast Survey anticipated that March sales would be unchanged.

Sales at motor vehicles & parts dealers dropped 1.2% in March (+5.6% y/y) after a 1.5% fall in February, which was revised from a 0.2% decrease. Separate data show that unit sales of light vehicles dropped 5.4% in March. Excluding motor vehicles, retail sales were unchanged in March (5.4% y/y) and had also been unchanged in February; February was revised down from +0.2%. The March result was less than the Action Economics consensus forecast of a 0.2% increase.

Sales at gasoline service stations fell 1.0% (14.3% y/y). This decrease accompanies a 6.2% fall in gasoline prices measured by the CPI. Those sales had declined 0.3% in February. Retail sales excluding both auto dealers & gas stations edged higher 0.1% in March (4.1% y/y), the same size move as in February.

In nonauto discretionary spending categories, furniture store sales fell 0.3% in March (2.9% y/y) after February's 1.5% decrease. Building materials & hardware also fell, by 1.5% (6.3% y/y), a downturn from February's 2.6% gain. Sporting goods store sales were off 0.8% (-3.8% y/y) after February's 0.4% rise. By contrast, electronics & appliance store sales rebounded 2.6% (-0.7% y/y) from a 1.9% drop in February. Clothing store sales also improved in March, by 1.0% (0.3% y/y) after a steep 2.7% drop in February. General merchandise store sales rose 0.3% (0.9% y/y) following a 0.4% decrease.

In the non-discretionary spending categories, health & personal care store sales edged higher 0.1% (5.7% y/y) in March, following February's 0.9% rise. Food & beverage store sales rose 0.5% (3.6% y/y) after being unchanged in February.

Nonstore retailers' sales were up 0.6% (11.9% y/y), after a similar 0.6% rise in February. These include online shopping and mail order outlets; they were about 10.6% of total retail sales in March.

Sales at food service & drinking places fell 0.6% (2.8% y/y) in March; they had been down 0.3% in February, which was revised from a 0.1% decrease reported before.

The retail sales data can be found in Haver's USECON database. The Action Economics forecast expectations are included in the AS1REPNA database.

Retail Spending (%) Mar Feb Jan Mar Y/Y 2016 2015 2014
Total Retail Sales & Food Services -0.2 -0.3 0.5 5.2 3.3 2.3 4.2
  Excluding Autos 0.0 0.0 1.1 5.0 3.1 1.2 3.7
  Non-Auto Less Gasoline 0.1 0.1 1.0 4.1 4.2 4.2 4.6
Retail Sales -0.2 -0.3 0.4 5.5 2.9 1.6 4.0
  Motor Vehicle & Parts -1.2 -1.5 -1.6 5.6 3.9 6.5 6.5
 Retail Less Autos 0.1 0.1 1.0 5.4 2.6 0.2 3.3
  Gasoline Stations -1.0 -0.3 2.1 14.3 -6.2 -19.2 -2.3
Food Service & Drinking Places Sales -0.6 -0.3 1.7 2.8 5.9 8.1 6.1
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