Spring off to good start as March retail sales increase

WASHINGTON — An earlier Easter holiday and unseasonably warmer weather prompted U.S. retail sales to steadily climb in March, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Monday.

U.S. retail and food services sales for March, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $411.1 billion, an increase of 0.8% from the previous month and 6.5% above the year-ago period. Retail trade sales were up 0.8% from last month and 6.5% above last year.

Looking across retail categories, adjusted sales at grocery stores increased about 0.4% to roughly $46.8 billion. Health and personal care stores saw a slight decline to nearly $23.2 billion. Retail sales for drug stores and pharmacies were not recorded; however, sales experienced a slight drop from January to February (about $19.2 billion).

Commenting on the results, the National Retail Federation said consumers are continuing to "hold their own," although it's too soon to tell if the spring shopping season is a successful one.

"Consumers have demonstrated the desire and ability to spend on discretionary items, further helping to spur economic and retail sales growth in the first quarter of 2012," NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay said. "While retailers will wait until the end of April to gauge the success of the spring shopping season, it's evident that consumers are holding their own against rising gas prices and other economic concerns."