Retail Sales Bounced Back Last Month

Clothing store sales rose by 2 percent between February and March.

By Kathryn Hopkins on April 18, 2019

The roller-coaster that has become the official retail sales data continued today, but this time it was on a high.

After a disappointing and confusing February when sales slipped into negative territory, they bounced back in March, growing by 1.6 percent, government figures showed. This was the biggest monthly gain since September 2017 and surpassed analysts’ estimates for a 1 percent rise.

“Retail sales came roaring back,” said Moody’s vice president Mickey Chadha, adding that every sector apart from sporting goods grew between February and March.

When volatile items such as motor vehicles and gasoline were removed from the picture, the numbers were still pretty rosy, rising by 0.9 percent and more than reversing February’s 0.7 percent slump.

Within that, clothing and clothing accessories stores were up by 2 percent, while general merchandise stores sales were 0.7 percent higher.

Since December, the official numbers have painted a confusing backdrop, which some analysts have blamed on the partial federal government shutdown muddling data collection.

December should be the strongest month of the year as consumers stock up on holiday gifts, but sales dropped 1.6 percent, while in January, which is usually a pretty somber month, retail sales swung back, only to fall again in February, confounding Wall Street’s hopes for a rise.

“Since the federal government shutdown, the retail sales data have been wacky,” Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont Securities wrote in a note to clients, although he was hopeful that March’s positive figures were a more accurate capture.

“The data collection and processing by the Census Bureau should have been relatively normal for March (the release was only two days later than originally scheduled), so I am hoping that we are now back to reality, in which case, the month‐to‐month changes should return to normal in April,” he added.

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