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May 16, 2019

Tax refunds and weather weigh on US retail sales in April

By Beth Wright

US retail sales slipped in April amid a fall in sales at clothing retailers in the country, new figures show. 

Retail sales were down 0.2% in April seasonally adjusted from March, but up 5.2% unadjusted year-over-year, the National Retail Federation (NRF) said today. 

The numbers, which exclude automobiles, gasoline stations and restaurants, include an 11.9% rise year-over-year in online and other non-store sales, which were down 0.2% on March seasonally adjusted.

Sales at clothing and clothing accessory stores were up 3.9% year-over-year but down 0.2% month-over-month seasonally adjusted. Sales at sporting goods stores tumbled 4.7% year-over-year but were up 0.2% seasonally adjusted from last month. General merchandise stores were up 4.4% year-over-year and up 0.2% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.

April’s results come after a month-on-month rise in sales at US clothing retailers helped retail sales rebound in March following a weaker-than-expected result in February.

“Slower tax refunds and weather may have been key factors impacting April’s numbers, but the fundamentals remain positive, particularly in long-term comparisons,” NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said, citing flooding in the middle of the country and blizzards and extreme temperature swings elsewhere. A soft housing market also impacted sales of furniture, appliances and building materials.

“Despite there being a lot of volatility in the data from month to month, the long-term comparisons look good and the three-month average, in particular, is getting stronger. We think we remain on track to meet our projections.”

The shift of Easter and Passover from March to April this year gave less of a month-over-month bump in spending than expected, but contributed to April’s strong year-over-year increase, Kleinhenz added.

As of April, the three-month moving average was up 2.9% over the same period a year ago, compared with 2.6% in March.

NRF’s numbers are based on data from the US Census Bureau, which said overall April sales – including auto dealers, gas stations and restaurants – were also down 0.2% seasonally adjusted from March but were up 3.1% unadjusted year-over-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.

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