WASHINGTON – U.S. retail sales in March rose by the largest amount in 18 months, led by strong gains in sales of autos, furniture and a number of other products.
The 1.1 percent jump reported by the Commerce Department on Monday was the best showing since September 2012. The government also revised February to a 0.7 percent gain, more than double its previous estimate.
Sales had fallen in January and December.
Sales of autos climbed 3.1 percent while sales at general merchandise stores, a category that covers retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target and department stores, increased 1.9 percent, the strongest one-month gain since March 2007, before the country fell into recession.
The strong March gain provides more evidence that the economy is emerging from a harsh winter with some momentum.
Businesses increased stockpiles 0.4 percent
WASHINGTON – U.S. businesses boosted their stockpiles in February as sales rebounded by the largest amount in nine months.
Stockpiles increased 0.4 percent in February following a similar 0.4 percent increase in January, the Commerce Department reported Monday. Sales rose 0.8 percent in February, bouncing back after a 1.1 percent sales decline in January that was blamed on the harsh weather that month. It was the biggest one-month sales gain since last May.
A separate report showed a surge in sales at the retail level in March, providing support to the view that stronger consumer spending in coming months will encourage businesses to restock their shelves and provide a boost to the economy.
While the economy slowed in the January-March quarter, many economists are looking for a strong rebound in the current quarter.
CBO predicts lower health care spending
WASHINGTON – A congressional report released Monday predicts slightly smaller deficits both this year and over the coming decade, with lower spending on federal health care spending being the main reason.
A Congressional Budget Office report Monday said this year’s deficit will now be $492 billion, $23 billion less than previously estimated. Last year’s deficit registered $680 billion, the first year in President Barack Obama’s tenure that the deficit was less than $1 trillion.
The CBO estimated that over the coming 10 years the deficit will total $7.6 trillion, $286 billion less than projected in February. CBO predicts next year’s deficit will be slightly lower at $469 billion before commencing a steady upward march to the $1 trillion range by 2022.