U.S. Retail sales increased in March by 1.6% over February and 7.6% from a year earlier on a seasonally-adjusted basis, according to the Commerce Department. Sales also beat consensus estimates, which predicted a month-over-month rise of 1.3%. Optimism about retail sales in March had been driving Wall Street's rally, so this news must come as an even more pleasant surprise to stock traders. Today's data paints a hopeful picture about consumer sentiment.
The March report shows sales increased almost across-the-board. Here are some major components and their month-over-month rise:
As you can see, only electronics and gas stations saw a decline in sales versus February. That latter group could be mostly due to gasoline prices declining in March by 1%, which could allow for flat or increasing gallons sold but result in a decline in gross sales. Auto and parts sales were up significantly, 6.7%. In fact, they accounted for 1% of the month's increase.
One notable rise was with sales of building materials. The 3.1% increase could indicate that construction and home improvement are gaining their footing. If so, this would be very good news to an industry that has lost 2.1 million jobs since the height of the housing boom.