Auto rebound gives US retail a bounce in March

Washington: Auto sales surged in March, sending the US retail sector higher for the first time in four months, helped by increased spending in other areas, according to government data released Monday.
Consumers snapped up electronics, shopped online and frequented bars and restaurants, but sales sagged at department stores, gas stations and clothing outlets, according to the Commerce Department report.

The higher spending could support GDP growth in the first quarter, which is expected to be sluggish.

Retail spending in the world’s largest economy gained 0.6 percent for the month, rising to $494.6 billion, overshooting economists’ expectations and marking the biggest gain since November.

The result put sales up 4.5 percent over the same month last year, pointing to a trend of steady overall increases.

Auto sales gained two percent, the biggest increase in six months.

Excluding the volatile auto sector, sales were up 0.2 percent, matching an analyst forecast and the same increase recorded in February. Excluding both autos and gasoline, sales rose 0.3 percent.

Personal consumption and retail spending had disappointed analysts in recent months, feeding expectations the US economy will see slower growth in the first quarter of the year.

Sales at home furnishing stores rose 0.7 percent, and were up 0.5 percent at electronics stores. Bars and restaurants gained 0.4 percent.

Non-store retailers like Amazon continued to gain, rising 0.8 percent for the month, putting them up nearly 10 percent over March of last year.

But department stores fell 0.3 percent, continuing a long-running decline.