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US retail sales rebound in sign consumer weakness transitory

Apr 16 2018 15:10
Katia Dmitrieva, Bloomberg

Washington - US retail sales rose by more than expected in March in the first gain in three months, suggesting consumer demand regained steam on the back of tax cuts and refunds.

Sales advanced 0.6% following a 0.1% drop in the previous month, according to Commerce Department figures released on Monday. That compared with the median estimate of economists for a 0.4% increase.

So-called retail control- group sales, which are used to calculate gross domestic product and exclude food services, auto dealers, building-materials stores and gasoline stations, gained 0.4%, matching estimates.

The improvement in demand went beyond a bump in auto sales, as consumers went shopping at furniture and home stores along with electronics and appliance sellers. The results underscore that the declines from December to February were more of a pause following a post-hurricane spending binge. That supports the Federal Reserve’s view that such weakness was transitory, as well as the central bank’s outlook for two or three more interest-rate increases this year following a quarter-point hike in March.

Eight of 13 major retail categories showed increases. Sales at health and personal-care stores rose 1.4%, the most in two years. Auto sales rose 2%, the most since September; a report last week showed purchases of cars and light trucks rose to a 17.4 million annualised rate in March, the fastest this year.

Weaker categories included building-materials stores, which fell 0.6%; apparel-store sales, down 0.8%; and sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores, which declined 1.8%, the most since December, the data showed.

Optimistic consumers

Consumer optimism has held at relatively high levels thanks to factors including job-market strength, rising wages and lower taxes. Refunds from 2017 returns may have also given retail sales a boost in March.

Even with the bounceback, consumer spending probably expanded at a slower pace in the first quarter. Control-group sales rose at a 1% annualised rate over the last three months, compared with 7.6% in the three months through December.

The relatively weak spending has kept estimates for economic growth in check, with analysts forecasting before Monday’s report that gross domestic product expanded at a 2.2% annualised pace in the January-March period, down from 2.9% in the previous quarter.

The data on Monday also showed that a decline in gasoline costs, as reported last week in the Labour Department’s consumer price index, may have weighed on filling-station receipts.

Gas-station sales dropped 0.3%, the most since July, according to the Commerce report. Excluding automobiles and gasoline, sales advanced 0.3% for a second month.

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us  |  retail sales  |  economy
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