Retail Sales Fall in April After March Surge

By Mark Lieberman

Managing Director and Senior Economist

Highlights:

  • March retail sales FELL 0.2 percent or $873 million in April after surging an upwardly revised 1.7 percent or $8.5 billion in March
  • Excluding auto sales, which FELL almost $1.2 billion, retail activity was up 0.1 percent in April, well below March’s 1.3 percent increase;
  • Sales at gasoline station ROSE 1.8 percent — $773 million — as the price of a gallon of gasoline increased 11.2 percent in April;
  • Other than gasoline stations, the only store categories to show an increase in sales were sporting goods and restaurants; sales rose 0.2 percent in each of those categories;
  • The only store category to show a decline was sporting goods and hobby stores where sales fell 0.3 percent from February to March.
  • All retail activity was up 3.1 percent year-year while the Consumer Price Index rose 2.0 percent in the same period.

Trends:

  • After increasing for six straight months from February through July last year, total retail sales have improved in only three of the last nine months;
  • BLS reported the number of retail jobs FELL an average of 13,800 in the last three months to the lowest level since February 2016;
  • Sales at non-store retailers – online sales – remained at 11.8 percent of all retail activity in April

Data source: Census Bureau

Image result for retail sales

Despite climbing gasoline prices which increased sales at gasoline stations, retails sales stumbled in April after a sharp increase in March. The fall in sales coincided with a slight uptick in Consumer Price Index inflation which suggests higher price drove consumers to watch their wallets more closely.

The retail sales report, produced by the Census Bureau, is not adjusted for price changes which means and increase in prices – even if the quantity of goods sold is unchanged – is viewed as an increase in sales.

That retail jobs have been declining appeared to reinforce a sales trend which has seen traditional brick and mortar stores yielding to online retailers.

The April report also reflected the slowdown in home sales – both new and existing – with sale declines at building material, appliance, and furniture stores. Sales at appliance stores have fallen month-month in six of the last eight months and in April were at their lowest level in three years.

We can likely expect a sales increase in May not because consumers re-energize but because newly hiked tariffs will raise prices.

Hear Mark Lieberman every Friday on the Morning Briefing on P.O.T.U.S. radio @sxmpotus, Sirius-XM 124, at 6:20 am Eastern Time. You can follow him on Twitter at @foxeconomics.  

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