Retail sales remain on the chilly side during early spring
LANSING — A hoped-for surge in Michigan retail sales after a long, severe winter never materialized in March, building up expectations for improvement in April, according to the latest Michigan Retail Index, a joint project of Michigan Retailers Association and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, whose region includes most of Michigan.
March sales declined both from February and from a year ago March. Spring sales forecasts climbed from February, however.
“More cold weather, more expensive heating bills and rising gasoline prices kept retail sales down during March,” said James P. Hallan, MRA president and CEO.
“Those factors offset a drop in the state’s unemployment rate and much of the pent-up demand from the deep winter months.”
The March survey of MRA members showed 39 percent of retailers increased sales over the same month last year, while 47 percent recorded declines and 14 percent reported no change. The results create a seasonally adjusted performance index of 44.8, down from 49 in February. A year ago March, the index stood at 47.8.
The 100-point Michigan Retail Index gauges the performance of the state’s overall retail industry, based on monthly surveys conducted by MRA and the Federal Reserve. Index values above 50 generally indicate positive activity; the higher the number, the stronger the activity.
Looking forward, 52 percent of retailers expect sales during April-June to increase over the same period last year, while 19 percent project a decrease and 29 percent no change. That puts the seasonally adjusted outlook index at 63.3, up from 61.7 in February. A year ago March, the index stood at 66.8.
Across the nation, March retail sales, excluding autos and gasoline, rose 0.8 percent, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. That followed a revised 0.4 percent increase in February.
William Strauss is senior economist and economic advisor with the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. He can be reached at (312) 322-8151.