Retail Sales Decline in March

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, according to the National Retail Federation.

March retail sales released Monday 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,” Rosalind Wells, NRF chief economist, said Monday. “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.”

Many retailers felt the brunt of the troubled economy as well, NRF said. Clothing and clothing accessories stores sales decreased 0.5 percent seasonally adjusted from last month and 2 percent unadjusted year-over-year. Sales at electronics and appliance stores decreased 0.4 percent seasonally adjusted month-to-month and 1 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

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.

NRF said 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 rose 1.5 percent unadjusted year-over-year and 1.4 percent seasonally adjusted month-to-month. 

Commenting on the Commerce Department figures, Brian Bethune, chief U.S. Financial Economist for Global Insight said, “Consumer spending continues to come under downward pressure from higher gasoline prices, slower growth in employment and compensation, and downward pressure on household net worth from declining home and equity asset prices. Overall, that translates into weak real consumer spending in the first half of 2008 and a likely decline in overall real GDP growth.”