Economy Watch: Retail Sales See Healthy Uptick in March

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The Commerce Department said on Monday retail sales increased 0.6 percent last month after an unrevised 0.1 percent dip in February.

Retail trade sales increased 0.6% from February and 4.7% from past year.

Excluding the volatile auto sector, sales were up 0.2 per cent, matching an analyst forecast and the same increase recorded in February. Compared with a year ago, however, auto sales didn't make that much difference: total retail sales were 4.5 percent higher when vehicle sales are factored out. Sales also dropped at gasoline stations, but rose modest on a year-on-year basis by 10 percent. The numbers exclude automobiles, gasoline stations and restaurants.

"Overall, consumer spending has been disappointing in 1Q18, which is partially weather-related, but today's report suggests the slowdown was transitory", said James Knightley, Chief International Economist at ING. "The biggest risk to spending is in market fluctuations that could affect confidence, but we expect these basic improvements in economic fundamentals to continue". Sales at building material and garden equipment and supplies stores were off 0.6 percent for the month, though they were up 5.3 percent for the year.

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General merchandise stores were up 6.3% year-over-year and up 0.3% from February seasonally adjusted.

The other major winning retail category for the month was health and personal care stores, which spiked 1.4 percent compared with February. The results reinforce a Federal Reserve prediction that the declines were transitory, following increased spending after two hurricanes that struck the United States a year ago.

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.

Sporting goods stores were down 0.9% year-over-year and down 1.8% from February seasonally adjusted.

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