Retail sales advanced for the third straight month in March, due to milder weather, an early Easter season and incentives by automakers to buy vehicles. The Commerce Department reported that sales climbed 1.6% last month, after an upwardly revised 0.5% gain in February. Compared to March 2009, sales surged 7.6%. Total sales for the January through March period were up 5.5% from the same period last year. Auto sales jumped 6.7% in March from February, the highest gain since October 2009. However, retail sales excluding autos still grew 0.6% as gains were reported across many sectors. The news indicates that consumers are emerging from their spending hibernation, despite a weak job market and tight credit.
Sales of building material & garden stores climbed 3.1% in March, sales at apparel chains jumped 2.3%, furniture and home furnishing store sales advanced 1.5%, department store sales grew 1% and sales of general merchandise chains – that include Walmart and Target – increased 0.6%. Other sectors posting gains included food and beverage (0.2%), health and personal care (0.2%), sporting goods, book and music chains (1%) and restaurants (0.3%). The few sectors posting declines included electronics and appliance stores (-1.3%) and gasoline stations (-0.4%).