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Retail Sales: Slow March with Negative Revisions

April 14, 2017
Bottom Line: Negative revisions to February data and declines in March brought the annual growth rate of core retail sales down to 4.3% over the last six months, still stronger than pace in both 2016 and 2015. Sales at building material and garden supply retailers fell for the first time in six months, likely due to weather, as nonstore ("online") retailers continued to see steady gains. Even with the slower March and negative revisions to the headline data, the Q1 average for core sales ex gasoline stations and ex building materials is modestly above its Q4 level, suggesting that real consumer spending accelerated from its 2.5% Q4 pace.

Retail Sales FELL by 0.2% in March, in-line with the market consensus for a decrease of 0.2%. The February estimate was revised lower from 0.1% to -0.3%. Retail sales are now 5.2% ABOVE their year ago level; just a year ago, the year over year growth rate was 1.7%. Spending at motor vehicle dealers fell by 1.2%.

Core Retail Sales were UNCHANGED, compared with the market consensus for an increase 0.1%. The February estimate was revised lower from 0.2% to 0.0%. Core retail sales are now 5.0% ABOVE their year ago level; just a year ago, the year over year growth rate was 2.0%.

In March, gains at grocery stores (+0.5%), nonstore retailers (+0.6%), electronic and appliance stores (+2.6%), clothing stores (+1.0%). were mostly offset by declines in building materials (-1.5%), gasoline stations, primarily due to low gasoline prices (-1.0%), sporting goods, hobbies, etc. (-0.8%), furniture & home furnishing (-0.3%).

Core Retail Sales ex Gasoline ROSE by 0.1% and are now 4.1% ABOVE their year ago level; just a year ago, the year over year growth rate was a moderate 3.8% .