Sales at clothing and clothing accessory stores were down 2.6% year-over-year but up 2% month-over-month seasonally adjusted

Sales at clothing and clothing accessory stores were down 2.6% year-over-year but up 2% month-over-month seasonally adjusted

A month-on-month rise in sales at US clothing retailers has helped retail sales rebound in March following a weaker-than-expected result in February, new figures show.

Retail sales were up 1% in March seasonally adjusted from February, and up 0.8% unadjusted year-over-year, the National Retail Federation (NRF) said.

The numbers, which exclude automobiles, gasoline stations and restaurants, include a 9.2% rise year-over-year in online and other non-store sales, which were up 1.2% on February seasonally adjusted.

Sales at clothing and clothing accessory stores were down 2.6% year-over-year but up 2% month-over-month seasonally adjusted. While sales at sporting goods stores tumbled 4.1% year-over-year but were up 0.5% seasonally adjusted from last month.

March's results make up for a revised monthly loss of 0.8% seen in February and build on February's year-over-year gain of 2.5%.

"March's numbers are very encouraging and set the stage for improved expectations for the economy in the coming months, especially since the first quarter is typically weak," NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said. "These numbers boost first-quarter performance and suggest a strong consumer. It is clear that underlying consumer fundamentals including job and wage growth and healthy household balance sheets continue to support spending. Consumers were busy in March after weaker-than-expected spending earlier."

Kleinhenz added the numbers could have been better if not for cold weather early in March and changes in the timing of two key religious holidays: "The change of seasons is always a factor because of the weather, and a later Easter and Passover this year mean holiday-related sales that took place in March last year won't come until April this year and sizably impact year-over-year comparisons."

As of March, the three-month moving average was up 2.6% over the same period a year ago. 

NRF's numbers are based on data from the US Census Bureau, which said last week that overall March sales – including auto dealers, gas stations and restaurants – were up 1.6% seasonally adjusted from February and up 3.6% year-over-year. The release of retail sales data for December through March has been delayed as the Bureau works through a backlog caused by the government shutdown earlier this year.

The results come as NRF is forecasting that US retail sales in 2019 will grow between 3.8-4.4% to more than US$3.8 trillion. The forecast will be monitored and subject to revision as more data is released in the coming months.