U.S. retail sales surged in March at the fastest pace since late 2017, as spending on autos, gasoline, furniture and clothing jumped.
Josh Boak of the Associated Press had the news:
The Commerce Department said Thursday that sales increased a seasonally adjusted 1.6% from February, the strongest increase since September 2017.
The gains mark a sharp rebound from a lackluster period of sales dating back to December. It’s a sign that the healthy job market has likely made consumers more eager to spend in ways that boost overall economic growth.
“For the first time in months, markets were finally presented with an upbeat report on U.S. retail sales,” said Jennifer Lee, a senior economist with BMO Capital Markets. “Americans hit the malls with a vengeance.”
Sales at gas stations climbed 3.5% in March, while spending at auto dealers jumped 3.1%. Clothiers reported a 2% gain and furniture stores enjoyed a 1.7% bump.
Lucia Mutikani of Reuters reported that sales at clothing stores were especially strong:
Stronger growth in the first quarter will probably not change the view that the economy will slow this year as the stimulus from a $1.5 trillion tax cut package diminishes and the impact of interest rates hikes over the last few years lingers.
In March, sales at auto dealerships jumped 3.1 percent, the most since September 2017. Receipts at service stations increased 3.5 percent, likely reflecting higher gasoline prices. Sales at building materials and garden equipment and supplies dealers rose 0.3 percent.
Receipts at clothing stores shot up 2.0 percent, the largest increase since last May. There were also increases in sales at furniture outlets, electronics and appliances shops, and food and beverage stores.
Online and mail-order retail sales increased 1.2 percent last month. Sales at restaurants and bars rose 0.8 percent, the most since last July. But receipts at hobby, musical instrument and book stores fell 0.3 percent.
Jed Graham of Investor’s Business Daily reported that the data boosted the stock market:
Dow Jones, S&P 500 and Nasdaq 100 futures, which had all been in the red, improved slightly after the 8:30 a.m. ET retail sales report. But a weaker-than-expected Philadelphia Fed manufacturing index limited gains. Dow Jones futures rose 0.2% vs. fair value. S&P 500 futures were up 0.1%, Nasdaq 100 futures just above break-even.
The 10-year Treasury yield, which was off a couple of basis points before the report, ticked up a bit to 2.57%.
A bounce-back in March appeared likely because of the timing of government tax refunds and SNAP payments. February SNAP payments were made in January to avoid a potential freeze if the government remained shut down. Meanwhile, Treasury payments of refundable earned income tax credits and child tax credits didn’t get paid out until Feb. 27, five days later than in 2018.