Sales were higher on a year-over-year basis, led by a $5.4 billion, or 12.3%, increase in non-store sales. Vehicle sales were a close second with a $5.3 billion, or 6.4%, rise in sales, followed by a $4.4 billion, or 13.7%, increase in gasoline station sales . Thus, while lower vehicle and gasoline sales were major factors in weak overall sales in March, they were big factors in the year-ago comparisons. The largest dollar decline in sales was seen in department stores, where sales were down $620 million, or 4.7%, which was also the biggest percentage decline.
This report, along with the unexpected decline in consumer prices in March, may give the Fed some pause at its next rate setting meeting in May. Weak March data suggests a rate increase is less likely than a few weeks ago.