Spring has sprung, as March marched to the best showing of monthly retail sales data in a year and a half.
In terms of headline numbers, the data released by the Commerce Department shows that sales were up 1.6 percent last month, noted by CNBC and other sites to have been the strongest increase since February.
The latest showing is well above the 1.1 percent expected by a consensus forecast of economists.
Drilling down into the data a bit, a tailwind came from sales of new trucks and cars, which were up 3.1 percent and buoyed overall results.
Energy prices, which were up notably in the last several weeks – for example, gas prices were up 10 percent during the month – also drove results.
Stripping out the impact of energy prices, broad-based gains were still in place. Excluding gas (where spending was up 3.5 percent) and spending on vehicles (auto dealer sales were up 3.1 percent), total core retail sales were up 90 basis points.
Among the biggest gainers on a segmented basis: clothing firms saw a 2 percent gain, and furniture stores were up 1.7 percent. Online and mail order retail sales were up 1.2 percent. One bit of data that bucked the overall trend: Hobby, musical instrument and book sale stores saw a monthly sales drop of 30 basis points.
Through the past year, retail spending is up 3.6 percent. The data, said CNBC, can be read as “a sign that the healthy job market has likely made consumers more eager to spend in ways that boost overall economic growth.” Tax refunds may have also played a part in the relatively sharp gains seen month over month – and March’s tally was 3.6 percent higher than a year ago.
The 1.6 percent gains seen in the latest reading offer up a sharp reversal of the 20-basis-point drop estimated for February.