Broad-based strength in retail sales

Don Hogsett, April 19, 2004

Helped by the weather and stronger sales of cars and home improvement products, retail sales climbed unexpectedly higher during March, the Commerce Department reported, jumping 1.8 percent from February levels, and up 8.2 percent from the same period a year ago.

The strength in sales was broad-based, the agency reported, with gainers outnumbering losers by a margin of three to one. "March saw strong sales increases across the board," said Rosalind Wells, chief economist of the National Retail Federation. "Due to an early Easter and favorable spring fashions, consumers had plenty of reasons to shop last month."

The strongest retail channel was the nation's building material and garden supplies outlets, where weather worked in favor of retailers, driving sales up 10.6 percent from February, and up 20.8 percent from prior-year levels. Auto sales were strong as well, rising 2.1 percent from February, and by a solid 7.2 percent from last year.

Also helped by the weather and an early Easter; sales at clothing and accessories stores jumped 1.9 percent from the preceding month, and by 9.6 percent from the same period a year ago.

Furniture and home furniture stores posted a 1.2 percent gain over February and rose by 9.8 percent from last year. Another home-related category — electronics and appliances — was near flat with last month, up 0.2 percent, but still climbed 10.9 percent from year-before levels.

Retail sales in March (by channel)

Winners
Building material & garden supplies +10.6%
Car dealers +2.1
Clothing & accessories +1.9
Furniture & home furnishings stores +1.2
Health & personal care stores +1.1
Grocery stores +0.9
Gas stations +0.8
Restaurants & bars +0.6
Electronics & appliance stores +0.2
Losers
Department stores -0.8%
Sporting goods, hobby, books & music -0.7
Non-store retailers -0.6
Source: U.S. Department of Commerce


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