Make us your home page
Instagram

Retail sales fell in March, second straight monthly drop

 Americans pulled back on their spending at auto dealers and restaurants in March, causing retail sales to drop despite signs of a healthy job market.
[Associated Press file photo]

Americans pulled back on their spending at auto dealers and restaurants in March, causing retail sales to drop despite signs of a healthy job market. [Associated Press file photo]

WASHINGTON — Americans pulled back on their spending at auto dealers and restaurants in March, causing retail sales to drop despite signs of a healthy job market.

Retail sales fell a seasonally adjusted 0.2 percent, the Commerce Department said Friday, after a revised 0.3 percent drop in February. But over the past 12 months, retail sales have risen 5.2 percent, a sign that that the economy remains on stable footing.

Related coverage: Retailers continue to struggle with no saving grace in sight

Still, there are signs that consumers are growing more cautious even though the unemployment rate declined in March to a low 4.5 percent. Steady job growth as the recovery from the Great Recession nears its eighth year and a bump in consumer sentiment following President Donald Trump's presidential election have yet to strengthen spending much.

Richard Moody, chief economist at Regions Financial, said the decline might reflect a natural retreat after strong consumer spending in the final three months of last year.

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

"None of those things point to a structural slowdown in consumer spending," Moody said.

Ian Shepherdson, an economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, cautioned, though, that the retail sales figures are "impossible to square with the stratospheric levels of consumer confidence."

The divergence suggests either an acceleration in retail sales later this year or a decline in consumer confidence.

"We expect a bit of both," Shepherdson said.

Since the start of 2017, Americans have cut back on purchases at auto dealers and restaurants and bars, two major sources of sales gains in prior years. Sales tumbled 1.5 percent last month at auto dealers and 0.6 percent at restaurants and bars. It was the second straight monthly drop in sales for both categories.

Spending at building materials stores also fell in March. And sales were lower at gasoline stations, though that likely reflected lower energy prices rather than waning enthusiasm from consumers.

Some of last month's pullback in retail sales was offset by rising purchases at department stores, clothiers and electronics outlets. Still, sales at those businesses have been sluggish over the past year.

One bright spot has been online retailers, which continue to thrive. Sales at non-store retailers improved 0.6 percent in March and have surged 11.9 percent during the last 12 months. More consumers are migrating away from physical stores to online outlets.

Retail sales fell in March, second straight monthly drop 04/14/17 [Last modified: Friday, April 14, 2017 10:58am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Associated Press.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Trigaux: Can Duke Energy Florida's new chief grow a business when customers use less power?

    Energy

    Let's hope Harry Sideris has a bit of Harry Houdini in him.

    Duke Energy Florida president Harry Sideris laid out his prioriities for the power company ranging from improved customer service to the use of more large-scale solar farms to provide electricity. And he acknowledged a critical challenge: People are using less electricity these days. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  2. Citigroup agrees to pay nearly $100 million fine for Mexican subsidiary

    Banking

    NEW YORK — Citigroup has agreed to pay nearly $100 million to federal authorities to settle claims that a lack of internal controls and negligence in the bank's Mexican subsidiary may have allowed customers to commit money laundering.

    Citigroup has agreed to pay nearly $100 million to federal authorities to settle claims that a lack of internal controls and negligence in the bank's Mexican subsidiary may have allowed customers to commit money laundering. 
[Associated Press file photo]

  3. Goodbye Tampa Bay Express, hello Tampa Bay Next; but toll lanes aren't going anywhere

    Transportation

    TAMPA — Tampa Bay Express is dead.

    But its replacement — Tampa Bay Next — will likely include many of the same projects, including express toll lanes on the rebuilt Howard Frankland Bridge.

    The Florida Department of Transportation on Monday announced that it was renaming its Tampa Bay Express plan, also known as TBX. The plan will now be known as Tampa Bay Next, or TBN. DOT officials say there are still re-evaluating the most controversial aspect of the old TBX plan: spend $6 billion to add 90 miles of toll roads to bay area highways - Interstates 4,75 and 275 - that are currently free of tolls. But TBN will keep the plan to add express toll lanes to the rebuilt Howard Frankland Bridge. [Florida Department of Transportation]
  4. Trigaux: Tampa Bay lands on Forbes 2017 ranking of best places for young professionals

    Working Life

    Consider this one more notch in the belt of Tampa Bay starting to win serious attention from millennials as a place to live and build a career.

    Mike Griffin is a senior managing director in Tampa for Savills Studley Occupier Services, which provides integrated real estate services. He is also chairman for 2017 of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, the first of the next generation of leadership emerging in this metro market. [Courtesy of Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce]
  5. Leaders of Tampa Bay's top workplaces share insights, suggestions

    Business

    TAMPA — Nearly 300 people gathered at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts Tuesday morning to hear tips and insights from leaders of the highest-ranked workplaces in Tampa Bay.

    Bays Florida associates (From left) Robert Patterson, Amanda Boser, and Kellly Banchak talk during the reception before the start of the Tampa Bay Times Top Workplaces Live! program at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa, Florida on Tuesday, May 16, 2017.
[OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]