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U.S. retail sales soared 1.6% in March

Strongest gain since Sept. ‘17 comes after 1.6% plunge in Dec.

By JOSH BOAK, Associated Press
Published: April 19, 2019, 3:25pm

WASHINGTON — U.S. retail sales surged in March at the fastest pace since late 2017, as spending on autos, gasoline, furniture and clothing jumped.

The Commerce Department said this week that sales rose a seasonally adjusted 1.6 percent from February, the strongest increase since September 2017.

The gains mark a sharp rebound from a lackluster period of sales in December. It’s a sign that the healthy job market has likely made consumers more eager to spend in ways that boost overall economic growth.

“For the first time in months, markets were finally presented with an upbeat report on U.S. retail sales,” said Jennifer Lee, a senior economist with BMO Capital Markets. “Americans hit the malls with a vengeance.”

Sales at gas stations climbed 3.5 percent in March, while spending at auto dealers jumped 3.1 percent. Clothiers reported a 2 percent gain and furniture stores a 1.7 percent bump.

Of 13 retail categories, one — sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument and book stores — reported a sales decline.

Spending at department stores was unchanged in March. Purchases in the sector that includes online businesses enjoyed a 1.2 percent rise. Restaurants saw their sales improve 0.8 percent.

Excluding autos and gas, retail sales increased by a still solid 0.9 percent. The ramp up suggests that consumers feel confident enough about their finances to maintain their spending, overcoming fears after retail sales in December plunged 1.6 percent, partially recovered in January and declined again in February.

During the past year, retail spending has grown 3.6 percent.

“The fundamentals for consumer spending are solid,” said James Marple, senior economist at TD Bank. “While the pace of gains are unlikely to match the stimulus-fueled pace of the past year, they will put a solid foundation under economic growth that is likely to average around the 2 percent mark over the remainder of 2019.”