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Retail Dampening Likely in April

With the Easter holiday giving strong support, retail sales lunged forward by 0.7% in March, to $371.6 billion, the U.S. Department of Commerce reported.

Furniture and home furnishings stores kept pace, rising 0.6% according to the seasonally adjusted estimate by Commerce. This home textiles-friendly segment has slightly outperformed retail as a whole during the past 12 months, as the year-over-year expansion of total retail was 3.8%, while the March 2007 mark made by the furniture/home furnishings element was 4.0% above March 2006.

However, the industry is battening down the hatches for the flip side of the earlier Easter — namely, the steep drop-off in sales expected in April, likely to be exacerbated by soaring gasoline prices. The U.S. Energy Information Administration said on April 16 that gas prices had risen for 11 straight weeks. The average price per regular gallon nationally reached $2.876, and gas stations topped the monthly segment winners with a 3.1% rise in sales.

Electronics and appliance retailers saw revenue levels dip, as spending shifted to spring apparel and fashion accessories; those stores saw sales up 2.4%.

Retailers of building material and garden equipment and supplies saw sales rise 1.4% in March, but were liable to see April sales dampened by an extended cold spell and heavy precipitation — overall, harsh wintry weather across the nation's North — even as warm spring weather graced much of the South.

RETAIL SALES IN MARCH
(by channel)

Source: U.S. Department of Commerce
Winners
Gasoline stations 3.1%
Clothing & access. stores 2.4
Bldg. mat./garden suppliers 1.4
Restaurants & bars 1.2
Sport. goods, books, music 1.1
Furniture & home furn. stores 0.6
Car dealers 0.3
Losers
Non-store retailers -3.3
Electronics & appliances -1.9
Dept. stores (non-leased depts.) -0.2


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