Retail sales rose 0.5% in March amid inflation jump; import prices hit 11-year high
Consumers continued to spend in March even as inflation rose to its highest level since late 1981, according to government data released Thursday.
Retail sales climbed 0.5% from the previous month, slightly less than the 0.6% Dow Jones estimate and a deceleration from the upwardly revised 0.8% gain in February.
The move came with inflation rising 1.1% for the month as measured by the consumer price index.
Retail sales data are not adjusted for inflation. Consequently, the biggest gain in sales for the month game at gas stations, which saw an 8.9% increase in sales as gasoline prices rose 18.3% during the period. The sector has seen a 37% sales burst over the past year.
By contrast, online sales slumped sharply, falling 6.4% for the month. General merchandise stores saw a gain of 5.4%, sporting goods and electronics stores both saw 3.3% gains, and bars and sales at food and beverage stores along with bars and restaurants rose 1%.
Retail sales broadly rose 6.9% from a year ago, a period during which CPI inflation surged 8.5%, the highest level since December 1981.
In other economic data, initial jobless claims rose to 185,000 for the week ended April 9, an increase of 18,000 from the previous week and above the estimate of 172,000. Continued claims, which run a week behind the headline number, fell by 48,000 to 1.475 million.
Also, inflation continued to hit imports, with prices rising by 2.6%, the largest month increase since April 2011, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. That was higher even than the 2.2% estimate.
On a 12-month basis, import prices jumped 12.5%, the largest such gain since September 2011.