Auto rebound gives US retail a bounce in March


WASHINGTON: Auto sales surged in March, sending the US retail sector higher for the first time in four months, helped by increased spending in other areas, according to government data released Monday.

Consumers snapped up electronics, shopped online and frequented bars and restaurants, but sales sagged at department stores, gas stations and clothing outlets, according to the Commerce Department report.

The higher spending could support GDP growth in the first quarter, which is expected to be sluggish.

Retail spending in the world’s largest economy gained 0.6 percent for the month, rising to $494.6 billion, overshooting economists’ expectations and marking the biggest gain since November.

The result put sales up 4.5 percent over the same month last year, pointing to a trend of steady overall increases despite the bumpy ride in early 2018.

Auto sales gained two percent over February, the biggest increase in six months.

The March numbers pointed to a recovery in some retail sectors that had sagged from heights reached late last year as homeowners in storm-hit southern regions worked to rebuild after the year’s back-to-back late summer hurricanes.

“Spending has now returned to the pre-hurricane track,” Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics said in a research note.

“Together with a weather-induced jump in spending on utility energy, this report means that total consumers’ spending for March will look quite strong,” he added.

But the gain is unlikely to be enough to offset the weakness in January and February.

January sales were revised down by 0.1 to a decline of 0.2 percent, after a 0.1 percent drop in February.

Excluding the volatile auto sector, March sales rose 0.2 percent, matching an analyst forecast and the same increase recorded in February. Excluding both autos and gasoline, sales rose 0.3 percent for the Month.

Personal consumption and retail spending had disappointed analysts in recent months, feeding expectations the US economy will see slower growth in the first quarter of the year.

Sales at home furnishing stores rose 0.7 percent, and were up 0.5 percent at electronics stores. Bars and restaurants gained 0.4 percent.

Non-store retailers like Amazon continued to gain, rising 0.8 percent for the month, putting them up nearly 10 percent over March of last year.

But department stores fell 0.3 percent, continuing a long-running decline.



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