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United States Retail March 2019

United States: Retail sales surge in March on higher automobile and gas spending

Nominal retail sales soared 1.6% on a seasonally-adjusted month-on-month basis in March, markedly contrasting February’s unrevised 0.2% contraction, and wildly beating market expectations of 0.8% growth. Retail sales excluding automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services—also known as “core” retail sales as they most closely reflect private consumption in GDP—also rose a solid 1.0% in March, following February’s revised 0.3% contraction (previously reported: -0.2% month-on-month).

The March print was driven by a surge in automobile sales, which are considered particularly volatile and performed relatively poorly in previous months, as well as a similarly large increase in gasoline purchases. This was due in large part to much higher gas prices in the month—as reflected by the March CPI report—due to gains in crude oil markets and mid-March floods in the Midwest, which disrupted gas supply and caused price spikes in some areas. Aside from these categories, sales of clothing and footwear rebounded from February’s slump, furniture store sales posted healthy increases, and non-store retailers—a category that includes e-commerce—continued to register steady and robust sales growth.

In annual terms, growth in retail sales came in at 3.6% in March, up from the 2.2% increase recorded in February. Lastly, annual average retail sales growth fell to 4.4% in March from 4.5% in February.

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