According to the National Retail Federation, retail industry sales for March (which exclude automobiles, gas stations, and restaurants) dipped 0.9 percent unadjusted over last year and were down 0.3 percent from the prior month.
March retail sales released today by the U.S. Commerce Department show total retail sales (which include non-general merchandise categories such as autos, gasoline stations and restaurants) increased 0.2 percent seasonally adjusted from the previous month and increased 0.1 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
“Unseasonably cooler weather created a challenging sales environment for many apparel retailers last month,” said NRF Chief Economist Rosalind Wells. “With the earliest Easter in 95 years, the calendar shift will likely impact April sales as well. In order to get a true picture of retail performance, we will need to look at both March and April sales combined.”
The weak housing market once again had a negative effect on the home furnishing and home improvement categories. Sales at furniture and home furnishing stores decreased 0.3 percent seasonally adjusted from last month and 10.2 percent unadjusted year-over-year. Building material, garden equipment and supplies stores sales decreased 1.6 percent seasonally adjusted from February and 9.6 percent unadjusted from last March.
In spite of the weak selling environment, there were still a few bright spots. Health and personal care stores sales rose 2.8 percent unadjusted from last March but decreased 0.1 percent seasonally adjusted from last month. Sporting goods stores sales also rose 1.5 percent unadjusted year-over-year and 1.4 percent seasonally adjusted month-to-month.
What does this tell us? Consumers will still buy the things that matter most to them! Stay the course. Reports from many parts of the country (undergoing good weather on weekends) points to a favorable spring thus far. Friends in the Northeast do report tougher times however (hurry up spring!).
The results show a cautious household sector, but not one in retreat. Available indexes of consumer attitudes have moved to very low levels — close to or below the lows in the prior two recessions — raising the prospect of a sharp adjustment to consumer spending. However, spending patterns, so far at least, have not softened to the same degree as attitudes.