The Census Bureau’s Advance Retail Sales Report for March was released this morning.
By Jill Mislinski
Headline sales came in at 0.6% month-over-month to one decimal and was above the Investing.com consensus of 0.4%. Core sales (ex Autos) came in at 0.2% MoM. January and February figures were revised.
Here is the introduction from today’s report:
Advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for March 2018, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $494.6 billion, an increase of 0.6 percent (±0.5 percent) from the previous month, and 4.5 percent (±0.5 percent) above March 2017. Total sales for the January 2018 through March 2018 period were up 4.1 percent (±0.5 percent) from the same period a year ago. The January 2018 to February 2018 percent change was unrevised from down 0.1 percent (±0.2 percent)*.
Retail trade sales were up 0.6 percent (±0.5 percent) from February 2018, and 4.7 percent (±0.5 percent) above last year. Gasoline Stations were up 9.7 percent (±1.6 percent) from March 2017, while Nonstore Retailers were up 9.7 percent (±1.4 percent) from last year. [view full report]
The chart below is a log-scale snapshot of retail sales (NYSEARCA:XLY) since the early 1990s. The two exponential regressions through the data help us to evaluate the long-term trend of this key economic indicator.
The year-over-year percent change provides another perspective on the historical trend. Here is the headline series.
Here is the year-over-year version of Core Retail Sales.
The next two charts illustrate retail sales “Control” purchases, which is an even more “Core” view of retail sales. This series excludes Motor Vehicles & Parts, Gasoline, Building Materials as well as Food Services & Drinking Places. The popular financial press typically ignores this series, but it a more consistent and reliable reading of the economy.
Here is the same series year-over-year. Note that the current level is above both highlighted values at the start of recessions since the inception of this series in the early 1990s.
For a better sense of the reduced volatility of the “Control” series, here is a YoY overlay with the headline retail sales.
Bottom Line: March sales showed an improvement over the previous month’s figures and were better than forecasts. When FRED publishes their data, we’ll take a closer look at Real Retail Sales.