Consumers spent more last month, but ...

Lower retail sales in December, January and February raised fears that the main growth engine of the US economy was f...

Posted: Apr 16, 2018 8:23 PM
Updated: Apr 16, 2018 8:24 PM

Lower retail sales in December, January and February raised fears that the main growth engine of the US economy was finally slowing. But there's good news about American shoppers.

According to the latest figures from the government, retail sales rose 0.6% from February to March, higher than expected. Sales were up 4.5% from a year earlier.

Does this mean people no longer have to be concerned about the financial health of American consumers and their willingness to shop until they drop?

Perhaps.

People spent more on an array of things last month. The biggest jump in sales came from the motor vehicle and parts dealers category, where sales rose 2% from February.

But Michael Gapen, chief US economist at Barclays, noted that the furniture, electronics and health and personal care categories also notched solid gains. He thinks consumers are benefiting from the tax cuts enacted late last year.

Gapen thinks that consumers now have more money in their pocket because of lower withholding rates - and that Americans will keep spending because of the bigger paychecks.

Still, there are reasons to remain nervous. Nonstore retailers, a catchall category that includes internet and catalog retailers, enjoyed a strong sales pop last month.

That largely reflects the rise of Amazon, which is one of the reasons some retailers have been forced into bankruptcy. Nonstore retail sales rose 0.8% last month and surged nearly 10% from a year ago.

Related: Bed Bath & Beyond tanks on gloomy outlook

Many big American retailers are still struggling to compete with Amazon, as well as Walmart, which is aggressively boosting its digital operations.

What do those two retail giants have in common? They offer a lot of bargains. As long as consumers are hunting for discounts and wary of sticker shock, overall retail sales may suffer.

The biggest problem for retailers may be the fact that, despite a healthy job market, wage gains have been relatively stagnant. Wages rose 2.7% from a year ago in March.

Most experts think that number needs to be north of 3% before consumers will be truly willing to loosen the purse strings - or, if you prefer a more 21st century reference, unlock their phones.

"The consumer remains on uncertain footing," Lindsey Piegza, chief economist with Stifel, wrote in a report Monday. Piegza added that Americans need to see "sizable and sustained gains" in wages before that fog of uncertainty will lift.

In other words, it's probably way too soon to declare that US consumers are going back to their spendthrift ways.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 116617

Reported Deaths: 3283
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7987178
DeSoto713479
Harrison527284
Jackson462285
Rankin398286
Madison383794
Lee360080
Forrest306978
Jones295784
Washington259299
Lafayette251343
Lauderdale2485135
Lamar227138
Oktibbeha202854
Bolivar201977
Neshoba1854111
Lowndes180262
Panola170240
Leflore168787
Sunflower163449
Warren155156
Monroe152173
Pontotoc147920
Marshall145329
Lincoln141157
Pike139256
Copiah138136
Scott125729
Coahoma125437
Grenada122639
Yazoo122634
Simpson121749
Union119225
Tate117739
Leake115242
Holmes114960
Itawamba114825
Pearl River114560
Adams108944
Prentiss106920
Wayne102022
Alcorn101112
George99919
Covington97927
Marion95443
Tippah91323
Newton86927
Chickasaw85726
Hancock85028
Tallahatchie84526
Winston84421
Tishomingo81641
Attala79726
Clarke76151
Clay70021
Jasper69117
Walthall64027
Calhoun62612
Noxubee59917
Smith59616
Montgomery55223
Yalobusha54914
Claiborne53816
Tunica53517
Lawrence52514
Perry49823
Carroll49312
Greene47818
Stone47714
Humphreys44916
Amite42513
Quitman4206
Jefferson Davis41211
Webster37613
Benton3456
Wilkinson33820
Kemper32715
Sharkey28514
Jefferson27710
Franklin2463
Choctaw2086
Issaquena1074
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 159439

Reported Deaths: 2699
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson23443377
Mobile16934315
Tuscaloosa10414140
Montgomery10298197
Madison939496
Shelby743663
Baldwin669469
Lee655065
Calhoun462161
Marshall441150
Etowah431251
Morgan418235
Houston418034
DeKalb346129
Elmore322753
St. Clair299942
Limestone289330
Walker282392
Talladega267435
Cullman250824
Lauderdale231342
Jackson217515
Autauga207431
Franklin206131
Colbert204132
Russell19533
Blount194225
Chilton189332
Dallas187227
Coffee179511
Dale177251
Covington175529
Escambia173030
Clarke135317
Chambers135244
Pike134413
Tallapoosa133087
Marion109729
Barbour10339
Marengo102522
Butler101340
Winston93713
Geneva9167
Lawrence86132
Pickens86018
Bibb84314
Randolph82916
Hale77730
Clay74912
Washington74912
Cherokee74514
Henry7196
Lowndes71428
Bullock64917
Monroe64810
Crenshaw60930
Perry5936
Fayette58413
Cleburne5738
Wilcox57012
Conecuh56113
Macon53720
Lamar5065
Sumter47321
Choctaw39212
Greene34616
Coosa2053
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