Economy Watch: Retail Sales Edge Down in March

While sales were down for the month, they gained ground in the first quarter, up 5.4 percent compared with the same quarter in 2016, according to the Census Bureau.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau
Source: U.S. Census Bureau

U.S. retail and food services sales were down 0.2 percent in March compared with February, at $470.8 billion, according to the Census Bureau on Friday. Factoring out car sales, total retail sales were the same month-over-month. Compared with a year ago, however, sales were up 5.2 percent. Also, retail sales during the first quarter of 2017 gained ground: up 5.4 percent compared with the same quarter in 2016.

Most categories of retail were down for the month, with the largest drop among building material and garden equipment suppliers (down 1.5 percent), possibly linked to lousy weather in parts of the country. Other losing categories for the month included car dealers, gas stations, sporting goods stores, and food service and drinking places.

Electronics and appliance stores, which have been suffering lately, gaining 2.6 percent in sales in March compared with February (they’re still down 0.7 percent for the year). Other gainers in March included grocery stores, clothing stores and even department stores (up 0.2 percent for the month, but down 4.5 percent compared with last year).

Most categories were sales winners compared with March 2016, including cars, food and beverage, restaurants, even furniture. Non-store sales—Internet sales, that is—remained hot for the year, according to the Census Bureau, gaining 11.9 percent since this time last year.