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Big rebound for U.S. retail sales in March

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Retail sales roared back in March with huge gains, fueled by the fresh round of stimulus checks and increased consumer confidence.

Retail sales rose 7.4% in March from February, according to the National Retail Federation, which excludes automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants from its count. That compares with a month-over-month decrease of 3.4% in February.

“Today’s data confirms reports that people are going out and spending and that in-store traffic has picked up,” said NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz. “After a disappointing February, there was a perfect alignment of factors supporting a surge in shopping in March. Further reopening of the economy was encouraged by economic stimulus payments, the public health situation improved with more vaccinations, employment grew and there was seasonal activity around Passover, Easter and spring break.”

Compared to March 2020, sales rose 17.7%. (The year-over-year comparisons were especially dramatic in some categories — clothing store sales jumped 104.6% — because many stores were ordered closed in mid-March last year because of the pandemic.) Sales increased on a month-over-month basis in nearly every category. Grocery stores – the only category to show a year-over-year decline – were among the few retailers allowed to remain open.

Specifics from key retail sectors include:
•    Clothing and clothing accessory stores were up 18.3% month-over-month and up 104.6% year-over-year.
•    Sporting goods stores were up 23.5% month-over-month and up 78.2% year-over-year.
•    Furniture and home furnishings stores were up 5.9% month-over-month and up 49.6% year-over-year.
•    Building materials and garden supply stores were up 12.1% month-over-month and up 32.4% year-over-year.
•    Online and other non-store sales were up 6% month-over-month and up 30.7% year-over-year.
•    Electronics and appliance stores were up 10.5% month-over-month and up 29.4% year-over-year.
•    Health and personal care stores were up 5.7% month-over-month and up 7.7% year-over-year.
•    General merchandise stores were up 9% month-over-month and up 6.1% year-over-year.
•    Grocery and beverage stores were up 0.7% month-over-month adjusted but down 10.2% year-over-year.

NRF is forecasting 2021 retail sales will increase between 6.5% and 8.2% over 2020, for a total between $4.33 trillion and $4.4 trillion.

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