Car sales put the brakes on retail numbers

Don Hogsett, May 17, 2004

Hurt by falling car sales, retail sales in April slipped a deeper than expected 0.5 percent from March levels, to a seasonally adjusted $331.8 billion, the Commerce Department reported.

But in a strong signal that the economy is improving and consumers are spending more freely, retail sales jumped 8 percent from April of 2003. Sales for the three-month period — February through April — climbed 8.3 percent from year-before levels.

Skewing the month-over-month figures a bit, and making the comparison with March more difficult, March retail sales were revised upward to a gain of 2 percent from a previously reported 1.8 percent, the agency said.

Taking a toll on the overall retail figure was a big 1.8 percent drop in car sales. Pull that number out of the equation, and sales for the remaining retail universe declined at a far more moderate pace of just 0.1 percent.

Taking big hits, in addition to cars, were apparel retailers, where sales fell 2 percent; and department stores, with sales skidding 1.7 percent. Do-it-yourselfers were otherwise engaged during the month, and sales at building materials and garden supply outlets tumbled 0.7 percent.

Other home-related goods did well, however, and sales in furniture and home furnishings stores climbed 0.7 percent, building on a 1.2 percent gain in March. Sales in electronics and appliances outlets climbed 0.8 percent, improving on a 0.2 percent increase in March.

Retail sales in April (by channel)

Sporting goods, hobby, books & music +1.1%
Non-store retailers +1.0
Electronics & appliances stores +0.8
Furniture & home furnishings stores. +0.7
Grocery stores +0.4
Gas stations +0.2
Clothing & accessories stores. -2.0%
Car dealers -1.8
Department stores -1.7
Building material & garden supplies stores -0.7
Restaurants & bars -0.1
Health & personal care stores -0.1
Source: U.S. Department of Commerce

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