WASHINGTON-The early Easter holiday (which this year was on April 8), unseasonably warm March weather and an advancing economy helped bring a glow to the retail sector last month.
March sales at U.S. retailers posted gains of 0.8 percent over February and 6.5 percent over March 2011, totaling $411.1 billion on an adjusted basis, according to this morning’s retail sales report from the U.S. Census Bureau.
In the channels that sell home products, sales at furniture and home furnishings stores rose 1.1 percent over February and 6.6 percent over March of last year. At general merchandise stores, the increases were 0.7 percent over February and 3.7 percent over March 2011. Department stores (excluding leased departments) reported increases of 0.3 percent month over month and 0.7 percent year over year.
Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation, said the positive numbers are a sign “that consumers are holding their own against rising gas prices and other economic concerns. Consumers have demonstrated the desire and ability to spend in discretionary items, further helping to spur economic and retail sales growth in the first quarter of 2012.”
The picture down the road is somewhat cloudier, according to NRF’s chief economist, Jack Kleinhenz. “We expect to see gains through the all-important summer months,” Kleinhenz said, “but job and weak income growth coupled with stubbornly high gas costs will continue to force consumers to make tough, price sensitive choices.”