USA retail sales fell for a second straight month in March and consumer prices dropped for the first time in just over a year, underscoring the magnitude of the loss of economic growth momentum in the first quarter.But with the labor market near full employment, Friday's weak reports failed to change views that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates again in June.
Value of purchases fell 0.2% (in line with median forecast) after February sales were revised to a 0.3% decrease (previously reported as a 0.1% gain) But underlying retail sales, which are used to calculate GDP and exclude the categories of food services, auto dealers, building materials outlets and gasoline stations, rose 0.5% after falling 0.2 percent Over the last three months, core retail sales increased an annualized 4.1%, compared with 3.8% at the end of a year ago.
Sales at electronics and appliances stores rose 2.6 percent, which Reuters said was the largest increase since June 2015.
Economists had expected sales to edge down by 0.1 percent compared to the 0.1 percent uptick originally reported for the previous month. Economists had forecast retail sales slipping 0.1 percent. Still, sales at those businesses have been sluggish over the past year.
However, the increases were offset by significant declines in sales by building material and supplies dealers and gas stations.
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Excluding the volatile automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services components, retail sales gained 0.5% after a downwardly revised 0.2% drop in February. Compared to March a year ago retail sales increased 5.2 percent. Before the retail report economists polled by MarketWatch were predict 1.6% GDP. Just yesterday, JCPenney announced it would postpone the closing of 138 stores after the locations saw an increase in recent sales.
That has forced retailers like J.C. Penney Co Inc JCP.N, Abercrombie & Fitch ANF.N and Macy's Inc M.N to scale back on brick-and-mortar operations.
"Some Fed officials will be disturbed by the unexpected drop back in core inflation, but this won't prevent a June rate hike", said Paul Ashworth, chief US economist at Capital Economics in Toronto.
Over the past 12 months, inflation is up a moderate 2.4 percent while core prices have risen 2 percent.
A 6.2 percent drop in gasoline prices was the biggest factor in the monthly decline in the CPI. Still, consumers paid more for food and rents last month. February's estimate was revised from up 0.1% to down 0.3%.