Retail Sales Picked Up in March

Don Hogsett, Staff Staff, April 17, 2006

Helped by a rebound in car sales, and do-it-yourselfers who started to fix up their homes as warmer weather settled in, U.S. retail sales picked up at a healthy clip during March, rising by 0.6%, and beating forecasts for a somewhat smaller 0.5%.

And the news out of the Commerce Department gets even better: February retail sales were better than originally reported. The agency had originally reported February sales declined by 1.4%, but has since revised that number to a smaller decline of 0.8%, suggesting that consumer spending is still on track.

Driving the March gain was a 1.6% jump in highly volatile car sales, which can fluctuate widely from month to month. And as the weather turned warmer, consumers started to plant their gardens and spruce up their homes, pushing sales at building material and garden supply outlets up by 1.2%. Otherwise, results were mixed for home goods retailers. Sales in furniture and home furnishings stores climbed by 0.5%. But as consumers took a break after stocking up on flat-panel TVs for Christmas, sales in electronics and appliance stores dropped off by 1.1%.

It was a strong month for non-store retailers, whose sales improved by 1.6%. And sales in health and personal care stores improved by 0.8%. But the weather wasn't kind to apparel stores, where sales were flat.

Giving consumers a small break, prices at the pump subsided, and sales at gas stations were off by 0.1%.

Retail Sales in March
(by channel)

Source: U.S. Department of Commerce
Car dealers 1.6%
Non-store retailers 1.6
Bldg. mat./garden sup. 1.2
Health & personal care 0.8
Sport. goods, books, music 0.6
Furn.& home furn. stores 0.5
Restaurants & bars 0.2
Clothing & accessories 0.0
Grocery stores 0.0
Electronics & appliances -1.1%
Department stores -0.1
Gas stations -0.1

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