BCN-35 US retail spending rebounds in February, driven by autos

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BCN-35

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US retail spending rebounds in February, driven by autos

WASHINGTON, April 18, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – American consumers resumed spending in
March, snapping up autos ahead of the summer driving season and pushing the
US retail sector to its biggest gains in 18 months, government data showed
Thursday.

The unexpectedly strong month for the key retail sector helped recover
losses after December’s worrisome slump, according to the Commerce
Department.

The sector’s performance pointed to resilience in consumption by ordinary
members of the public — a main driver of the world’s largest economy — and
should support GDP growth in the first quarter, which is nevertheless
expected to be weaker than the final quarter of 2018.

Total retail sales rose 1.6 percent to $514.1 billion, well above the 0.9
percent economists had been expecting.

The result put the retail sector 3.6 percent above March of last year.

Auto sales zoomed 3.1 percent higher, also the strongest showing in a year
and a half, after a 0.1 percent dip.

Excluding the volatile auto sector, sales rose by a slower 0.9 percent,
although this was still above expectations.

Department stores were flat and electronics retailers reported only token
gains after February’s declines. Electronics retailers are now down 2.7 year-
on-year.

Nevertheless, Americans in March also bought more clothing, furniture and
groceries than in February and resumed shopping online after a soft patch.

“In short, spending surged, consistent with some catch-up after exaggerated
weakness. The net result is still a weak pace in (the first quarter) as a
whole, but with positive momentum as the quarter ended,” Jim O’Sullivan of
High Frequency Economics said in a client note.

GDP growth estimates were likely to be revised upwards in light of the new
numbers, he added.

BSS/AFP/SR/1935 HRS