US Retail Sales Dip 0.2% In March Amid Lower Auto Sales

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Purchases at auto dealers decreased 1.2% in March after a 1.5% drop; industry data showed sales of cars and light trucks fell to a 16.5 million pace, the slowest in more than two years Receipts at gasoline service stations fell 1% in March; the retail figures don't reflect changes in prices Retail sales excluding autos were little changed for a second straight month.

Along with the Department of Commerce, the National Retail Federation (NRF) also issued its March retail sales data, which saw that March sales saw a slight 0.3 percent increase compared to February and a 3.5 percent unadjusted annual increase, with these numbers excluding automobiles, gas stations, and restaurants.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast retail sales slipping 0.1 percent last month.

Sales at health and personal care stores increased 0.1% seasonally adjusted over February and increased 5.3% unadjusted year-over-year. That was the case for February 2017 sales, which the Department revised Friday from a decrease of 0.1% to 0.3%. Receipts at clothing stores increased by the most in a year, despite declining mall traffic and increased competition from online retailers, led by Amazon.com.

A 1.5 percent plunge in sales at building material stores was also a drag.

However, February´s preliminary reading showing a gain of 0.1% was revised down to show a 0.2% drop too.

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The Commerce Department said total retail sales in March were up by 5.2 percent compared to the same month a year ago.

Sales at retailers nationwide declined 0.2% last month, a touch less than the 0.3% drop forecast in a MarketWatch survey.

Most economists expect retail sales to accelerate soon in light of high consumer confidence, steady hiring gains, rising wages and the arrival of most 2016 tax refunds.

That has forced retailers like J.C. Penney Co Inc, Abercrombie & Fitch and Macy's Inc to scale back on brick-and-mortar operations.

But while the Big Three automakers all reported lower-than-anticipated sales for March, that is not the only indication that consumers are scrutinizing their own spending; at least, in regards to their vehicles.

It is well known that retail sales represent somewhere around two-thirds of all economic activity, and that U.S. retail sales contribute around 14 percent, or $2.6 trillion to U.S. GDP. However, consumers paid more for food and rent.

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