Retail sales are expected to show modest gains for the month of March, as the rise in gasoline prices has slowed further growth.
As a whole, retail sales are expected to grow, but at a smaller rate than the 0.5 percent projected by a Bloomberg News survey.
While another gain would prove to be the ninth-straight month of retail sales growth, there is growing fear that a continued increase in gasoline prices would lower overall consumer spending.
Gasoline sales are expected to drop this month, a reflection of the 30 percent rise in gas prices over the past year and consumers who are staying away from the pump as a result.
Gasoline sales have shown a steady increase in the past few months’ retail reports, mostly reflecting the higher prices seen throughout the nation due to increased use and fear of shortages amidst political crises in oil producing nations.
But the March retail sales report, which will reflect revenues when the national gas price was over $3.50 for the entire length of the month, is expected to show a drop in sales. The current average price for a gallon of regular gas in the U.S. is $3.79, according to the AAA. This time last year, it was $2.86.
Gasoline sales were the only retail sector to see a decrease over the past month, according to SpendingPulse, an economic report released by MasterCard Advisors.
“Consumers are still getting hammered at the gas pump and it’s obviously reflected in the lack of larger growth from month to month,” said Sean Incremona, senior economist at 4CAST Ltd. “There are gains, but nothing extensive.”
While the fact that every other retail sector is showing gains is promising, no industry is showing any true acceleration of growth, creating fear that further decline in gas sales could have a slowing down effect on the rest of the market.
“Compared to March 2010, we’re seeing drivers pump less gasoline,” said Michael McNamera, vice president of research and analyst for MasterCard Advisors. “High gas prices typically result in consumers consolidating shopping trips, shopping closer to home, and making fewer trips to the brick and mortar locations.”
Macy’s, Inc reported same store sales increased 0.9 percent, but many other retailers, such as Target and J.C. Penny Company showed decreases, 4.5 and 0.3 percent, respectively. March apparel sales are expected to show an increase as a whole of around four percent, which while that is a positive sign, it’s also about half of the growth shown over the previous six months.
However, the one industry that stands to profit as gasoline sales increase is e-commerce.
Rising gas prices coupled with higher food prices will push down consumer discretionary spending as a whole, but as shoppers try to resist spending at the pump, purchasing goods online from home will continue to rise.
The sector is expected to show its fifth-consecutive month of double-digit growth, riding the wave of February’s 13 percent increase. While Macy’s, Inc did show that gain of 0.9 percent, the department store’s online sales increased 34.8%.
However, while that number is encouraging, the growth is more of a reflection of people choosing to shop online over at a store, and not more purchases taking place as a whole.
“Consumer spending usually takes a little hit from high gas prices in the summer, when everyone is doing a lot of traveling,” said Incremona. “That we could be seeing it in March is a bad harbinger for the upcoming months.”