US clothing sales results were mixed in March

US clothing sales results were mixed in March

US retail sales garnered mixed results in March, with demand for apparel seeing an uptick following a lacklustre autumn/winter season.

The latest figures from the US Commerce Department, which include cars, gasoline and restaurants, show retail trade sales edged down 0.2% from February, but increased 1.3% from March last year. 

Sales at clothing and clothing accessories stores dropped 0.9% month-on-month, but climbed 0.1% from March last year. 

For general merchandise stores, sales were up 0.5% from February, and rose 1.2% year-on-year. Department store sales fell 0.6% month-on-month, and declined 6.1% from March last year. While sales at sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores climbed 0.2% from February, and grew 6.1%  year-on-year. 

Commenting on the figures, Conlumino analyst Neil Saunders argued that the use of seasonally adjusted figures gives a negative view. In real terms Americans spent more in March than they did in February or March of last year. "By no stretch of the imagination did retail sales fall."

He added that overall retail sales actually rose by a respectable 3.6% year-on-year in March, underpinned by a 5.8% increase in pure retail sales (which exclude gas, food service and auto). And this, in part, is thanks to a moderate uptick in demand for apparel following a lacklustre autumn and winter season, helping to boost sales at fashion retailers. 

But the outlook going into the second quarter is mixed. "Just as March's figures were boosted by the timing of Easter, April's figures may be similarly diminished," Saunders noted.  

"Looking further ahead – the uncertainty of the election, rising gas prices, a potential downtick in the housing market, possible hikes in interest rates (which remain a possibility, although we think such moves unwise), and further turmoil on global markets – will all present challenges to retail."

Separate data from the National Retail Federation (NRF), which excludes automobiles, gas stations and restaurants, indicates retail sales edged up 0.3% seasonally adjusted from February and increased 5.8% from March last year.