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Retail sales slow down in March

by Andrea Waitrovich

U.S. retail and food services sales were down 0.2 percent in March at $470.8 billion, according to the Census Bureau on Friday.

In February 2017 sales increased 0.1 percent, which was less than in January 2017. The January increase was also revised to 0.6 percent, while sales in December were up 1 percent.

Compared with a year ago, sales were up 5.2 percent. Also, retail sales during the first quarter of 2017 were up 5.4 percent compared with the same quarter in 2016.

It was the first consecutive two-month drop in more than two years as purchases declined at car dealers and gasoline stations. Sales declined in six of 13 major retail categories in March. Retail sales month-over-month in the United States averaged 0.36 percent from 1992 until 2017, reaching an all-time high of 6.70 percent in October of 2001 and a record low of –3.70 percent in November of 2008.

Most categories of retail were down for the month, with the largest drop among building material and garden equipment suppliers, down 1.5 percent. Other low performing categories during March include car dealers, gas stations, sporting goods stores, and food service and drinking places.

Recovering categories include electronics and appliance stores, gaining 2.6 percent in sales in March. Also grocery stores, clothing stores and department stores (up 0.2 percent for the month, but down 4.5 percent compared with last year).

Non-store sales gained 11.9 percent since this time last year.

However, despite the falloff in sales, consumer confidence has increased. In March, The Conference Board, an economic research firm, said its latest monthly survey of consumer sentiment surged in March to the highest level since December 2000.

And another closely watched measure of consumer confidence, The University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment Index, released its data that consumer sentiment edged up to 98 in April. The monthly survey of 500 consumers measures attitudes toward topics such as personal finances, inflation, unemployment, government policies and interest rates.

The survey consists of two parts: current economic conditions, which measures attitudes about the current state of the economy, and the index of consumer expectations, which measures outlook. The Current Economic Conditions Index is currently at its highest since 2000.

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