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Census Bureau: Retail sales show healthy March growth

retailer employee helping customer
Retail sales increased in March 2024.

Data released by the U.S. Census Bureau shows retail sales continued to increase in March.

Core retail sales (excludes automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants) rose 1.1% in March and were up 3.2% year-over-year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Overall retail in March were up 0.7% from February 2024 and up 4%  year-over-year. That compares with increases of 0.9% month-over-month and 2.1% year-over-year.

National Retail Federation (NRF) chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said contributors including tax refunds and job growth helped put more money in shoppers’ pockets during the month.

"March’s Census Bureau numbers confirm that consumer spending remains steady, underscoring a resilient consumer despite inflationary pressure," Kleinhenz said. "While sales were mixed, several factors supported retail sales including an early Easter holiday, slightly larger 2023 tax refunds and stronger payroll growth over the last three months. Nonetheless, the increasing share of consumer spending going to services as prices for services rise remains a stubborn problem because it leaves less household income available to spend on retail goods."

Core retail sales were up 3.9% unadjusted YoY on a three-month moving average as of March.

Retail shows solid performance in March

Other analysis also indicates that March saw retail sales continue on an upward trajectory. According to the CNBC/National Retail Federation (NRF) Retail Monitor, total retail sales, excluding automobiles and gasoline, were up 0.36% seasonally adjusted month-over-month and up 2.72% unadjusted year-over-year in March. 

That compared with increases of 0.4% month-over-month and 2.7% year-over-year in February. The Retail Monitor calculation of core retail sales – excluding restaurants in addition to automobiles and gasoline – was up 0.23% month-over-month and up 2.92% year-over-year in March. 

Those figures are down slightly compared with increases of 0.27% month-over-month and 2.99% year-over-year in February. For the first quarter, Retail Monitor data indicates total retail sales were up 2.65% year-over-year, while core sales were up 3.12%.

In addition, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse, which measures in-store and online retail sales across all forms of payment, total U.S. retail sales (excluding automotive) were up year-over-year  in March 2024, showing showing continued growth for both online (+6.1%) and in-store (+2.6%) retail sales.

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