Retail sales and outlook remain positive for Michigan

May 6, 2012
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LANSING — Michigan retailers’ confidence in sales over the next three months is up slightly, following March sales that remained positive, according to the latest Michigan Retail Index, a joint project of Michigan Retailers Association and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

“Concerns over the price of gasoline haven’t evaporated, but they have quieted somewhat as prices have retreated from the $4 level,” said MRA President and CEO James P. Hallan.

“Consumer spending also remains good, further allaying retailers’ fears.”

The Michigan Retail Index for March found that 49 percent of retailers increased sales over the same month last year, while 26 percent recorded declines and 25 percent saw no change.

The results create a seasonally adjusted performance index of 57.8, down from 59.3 in February. In March 2011, it was 42.9.

The 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, 59 percent of retailers expect sales during April through June to increase over the same period last year, while 8 percent project a decrease and 33 percent no change. That puts the seasonally adjusted outlook index at 69.0, up from 67.9 in February. A year ago March, it was 63.8.

Sixty-four percent of Southeast Michigan retailers increased sales in March, the best results in the state. They also are the most optimistic, with 75 percent forecasting improved second quarter sales.

National retail sales rose by 0.8 percent in March, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. Excluding cars, gas and food, sales rose 8.2 percent in the first quarter, which was the biggest gain in two years, the government said.

William Strauss is senior economist and economic advisor with the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. He can be reached at (312) 322-8151.

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