Retailers turn in mixed performance in March

A slump in consumer prices helped to keep retail sales in check in March.
 
Retail sales in March inched up 0.3% over February, according to the National Retail Federation. (The NRF numbers exclude automobiles, gasoline stations and restaurants.)
 
“Various factors were at play in the first quarter, but we are again seeing a pattern similar to previous years — consumer spending was weak but is expected to pick up as we move through the year,” said NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz.
 
Citing the most recent Consumer Price Index numbers that showed prices reversing course in March, Kleinhenz said a lack of pricing power continues to plague the retail industry. 
 
“There is no doubt that weak pricing power led to the bumpy period for retailers in the first part of this year,” he said. 
 
On a three-month moving average, retail sales have grown 2.8% year-over-year. When looking at business lines, performance in March was again uneven. Clothing and accessories and general merchandise saw slight gains, while there were declines in building materials and supplies and sporting goods, likely due to winter weather. But even the sectors with declines showed increases year-over-year, the NRF pointed out.
 
A few specifics include:
 
• Online and other non-store sales increased 0.6% over February and increased 11.4% unadjusted year-over-year.
 
• Sales at clothing and accessories stores increased 1% seasonally adjusted from February but decreased 2.5% unadjusted year-over-year.
 
• Sales at general merchandise stores increased 0.3% seasonally adjusted over February and remained even year-over-year.
 
• Electronics and appliances stores’ sales increased 2.6% seasonally adjusted over February but decreased 0.4% unadjusted year-over-year.
 
• Furniture and home furnishings stores’ sales decreased 0.3% from February but increased 3.3% unadjusted year-over-year.
 
• Sales at building materials and supplies stores decreased 1.5% seasonally adjusted from February but increased 6.3% unadjusted year-over-year.
 
• Sporting goods stores’ sales decreased 0.8% seasonally adjusted from February and decreased 4.7% unadjusted year-over-year.
 
Sales at health and personal care stores increased 0.1% seasonally adjusted over February and increased 5.3% unadjusted year-over-year.
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