US Retail Sales Fall for Second Straight Month

In this Saturday, March 25, 2017, photo, shoppers enter the Sears department store in Schaumburg, Ill. Compared to March past year retail sales increased 5.2 per cent.

New data shows that Americans might be getting a little more frugal as spending at auto dealers and restaurants dipped a little, in March.

Sales in March decreased 0.2% at US stores, restaurants, and online retailers from their level in February, according to figures [PDF] released by the Commerce Department on Friday.

There are signs that consumers are growing more cautious despite a bump in consumer sentiment following President Donald Trump's presidential election. That is a major number and clearly can not be overlooked, especially when looking at how closely connected retail and consumer activity is tied to the freight transportation and logistics sectors on so many fronts, including trucking, intermodal, parcel, ocean, air, and e-commerce.

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"Various factors were at play in the first quarter, but we are again seeing a pattern similar to previous years - consumer spending was weak but is expected to pick up as we move through the year", NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said.

The improving job market and rising household net worth should keep the economy in solid shape, he suggested.

These so-called core retail sales correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product.

All other sectors saw increases over the same month past year, with the miscellaneous retail stores category posting the third best gain of 6.5%.

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Since the start of 2017, Americans have actually cut back on purchases at auto dealers and restaurants and bars, two major sources of sales gains in prior years.

Sales at retailers nationwide declined 0.2% last month, mostly because of cheaper gas and incentives by vehicle dealers to drum up sales. It was the second straight monthly drop in sales for both categories.

There were also decreases in sales at building material stores, likely as bad weather halted work at construction sites. And sales were lower at gasoline stations, though that likely reflected lower energy prices rather than waning enthusiasm from consumers. Sales at electronics and appliances stores recorded their biggest rise since June 2015 and receipts at clothing stores increased by the most in a year.

"As with past year, we expect the first quarter (and especially March) weakness in auto sales to be short-lived as the job market expands".

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One bright note, though, is online retailers. February sales were revised down to a 0.3% decrease from an initial estimate of a 0.1% gain. That makes sense, as has been the case for several months, with more and more consumers avoiding the mall and shopping online.


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