Retail trade sales (excluding food) rose 1.7% from February and 3.5% year over year, the U.S. Department of Commerce said on Thursday. Excluding fuel and auto sales, retail sales rose 0.9% from February and 3.6% year over year, according to the report.
Most segments, including many that had declines last month, saw month-over-month boosts. From February, furniture sales rose 1.7%, electronics and appliance sales rose 0.5%, health and personal care store sales rose 0.2%, general merchandise store sales rose 0.7% and apparel store sales rose 2%. Department store sales were flat from February, while sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument and book stores were down 0.3%.
Nonstore retailers (mainly e-commerce) rose 1.2% from February and 11.6% year over year, the government said.
As spring flowers bloomed in much of the country, retailers also got the good news that March saw a healthy rebound in sales. The adjusted 0.9% month-over-month growth that excludes autos and gas beat the consensus estimate for 0.4% growth, Wells Fargo Senior Analyst Grant Jordan noted in comments emailed to Retail Dive. E-commerce growth decelerated slightly from last month, he also said.
The month's showing demonstrates that "the U.S. consumer has not gone into hiding despite some soft readings in earlier data," Wells Fargo Senior Economist Tim Quinlan said in comments emailed to Retail Dive. "Despite a run of ugly data in recent reports about the consumer, we have maintained the weakness was a soft patch and not the start of a broad retrenchment."
Moody's Investors analysts put it this way: "Retail sales came roaring back with a robust growth of 1.7% in March with every retail sector except sporting goods showing growth over February and with Auto's leading the way," Moody's Vice President Mickey Chadha said in comments emailed to Retail Dive. "Year over year growth of 3.5% in March was led by online sales growth which continues to grow at a much faster rate than brick and mortar retail sales. … The rebound in retail sales bodes well for first quarter GDP growth and demonstrates that consumers are still opening their wallets as unemployment remains low and consumer confidence still remains high."
A drop in interest rates could also continue to help home goods and home improvement retailers, "as the housing market improves due to lower mortgage rates," he also said. Rates are edging back up, however, according to a note from Freddie Mac Chief Economist Sam Khater emailed to Retail Dive. "After dropping dramatically in late March, mortgage rates have modestly increased since then," he wrote. "While this week marks the third consecutive week of rises, purchase activity reached a nine-year high – indicative of a strong spring homebuying season."