BUSINESS + ECONOMY

Retail spending fell in March as consumers pull back

Apr 14, 2023, 8:47 AM

A grocery-shopping guru joined KSL Podcast D2 to offer tips and advice on how to pinch your pennies...

SAN RAFAEL, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 12: Customers shop for eggs at a Sprouts grocery store on April 12, 2023 in San Rafael, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

(CNN) — Spending at US retailers fell in March as consumers pulled back after the banking crisis fueled recession fears.

Retail sales, which are adjusted for seasonality but not for inflation, fell by 1% in March from the prior month, the Commerce Department reported on Friday. That was steeper than an expected 0.4% decline, according to Refinitiv, and above the revised 0.2% decline in the prior month.

Investors chalk up some of the weakness to a lack of tax returns and concerns about a slowing labor market. The IRS issued $84 billion in tax refunds this March, about $25 billion less than they issued in March of 2022, according to BofA analysts.

That led consumers to pull back in spending at department stores and on durable goods, such as appliances and furniture. Spending at general merchandise stores fell 3% in March from the prior month and spending at gas stations declined 5.5% during the same period. Excluding gas station sales, retail spending retreated 0.6% in March from February.

However, retail spending rose 2.9% year-over-year.

The effect of smaller tax returns

Smaller tax returns likely played a role in last month’s decline in retail sales, along with the expiration of enhanced food assistance benefits, economists say.

“March is a really important month for refunds. Some folks might have been expecting something similar to last year,” Aditya Bhave, senior US economist at BofA Global Research, told CNN.

Credit and debit card spending per household tracked by Bank of America researchers moderated in March to its slowest pace in more than two years, which was likely the result of smaller returns and expired benefits, coupled with slowing wage growth.

Enhanced pandemic-era benefits provided through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program expired in February, which might have also held back spending in March, according to a Bank of America Institute report.

A slowing labor market

Average hourly earnings grew 4.2% in March from a year earlier, down from the prior month’s annualized 4.6% increase and the smallest annual rise since June 2021, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Employment Cost Index, a more comprehensive measure of wages, has also shown that worker pay gains have moderated this past year. ECI data for the first quarter of this year will be released later this month.

Still, the US labor market remains solid, even though it has lost momentum recently. That could hold up consumer spending in the coming months, said Michelle Meyer, North America chief economist at Mastercard Economics Institute.

“The big picture is still favorable for the consumer when you think about their income growth, their balance sheet and the health of the labor market,” Meyer said.

Employers added 236,000 jobs in March, a robust gain by historical standards but smaller than the average monthly pace of job growth in the prior six months, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The latest monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS report, showed that the number of available jobs remained elevated in February — but was down more than 17% from its peak of 12 million in March 2022, and revised data showed that weekly claims for US unemployment benefits were higher than previously reported.

The job market could cool further in the coming months. Economists at the Federal Reserve expect the US economy to head into a recession later in the year as the lagged effects of higher interest rates take a deeper hold. Fed economists had forecast subdued growth, with risks of a recession, prior to the collapses of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank.

For consumers, the effects of last month’s turbulence in the banking industry have been limited so far. Consumer sentiment tracked by the University of Michigan worsened slightly in March during the bank failures, but it had already shown signs of deteriorating before then.

The latest consumer sentiment reading, released Friday morning, showed that sentiment held steady in April despite the banking crisis, but that higher gas prices helped push up year-ahead inflation expectations by a full percentage point, rising from 3.6% in March to 4.6% in April.

“On net, consumers did not perceive material changes in the economic environment in April,” Joanne Hsu, director of the surveys of consumers at the University of Michigan, said in a news release.

“Consumers are expecting a downturn, they’re not feeling as dismal as they were last summer, but they’re waiting for the other shoe to drop,” Hsu told Bloomberg TV in an interview Friday morning.

This story has been updated with context and more details.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Business + Economy

Almost half of working Americans say they feel good about their finances, for now. They're feeling ...

Alexandrea Bonilla

Working Americans are worried about their future finances

Almost half of working Americans say they feel good about their finances, for now. They're feeling unsure about the future.

1 day ago

A newly implemented city regulation in Washington DC is making the city and childcare even more exp...

Devin Oldroyd

New law raises Washington DC childcare cost and affects childcare staff

A newly implemented city regulation in Washington DC is making the city and childcare even more expensive and unsustainable for families.

2 days ago

Financial technology, or FinTech is a new minor offered at the University of Utah. This year, they ...

Josuee Sanchez

Graduates from U’s FinTech program join a popular, growing field

FinTech grads will fill roles in businesses that include digital banking, blockchain technology, and artificial intelligence.

2 days ago

housing in rural utah...

Heather Peterson

New report explores similarities and differences in rural and urban Utahns

Researchers analyzed Census data, which showed that people in Utah’s urban and rural communities shared surprising similarities.

2 days ago

a utah child care provider and several children...

Amanda Dickson

Dickson: A look inside the child care crisis

You've heard about the child care crisis in Utah. Parents can't afford child care. Child care workers can't afford to live on what they make.

3 days ago

Rural wildlife firefighters, "Hot Shots"...

Michael Camit

Utah is struggling to retain its rural ‘Hotshots’

Filling jobs of rural wildlife firefighters can be difficult due to the cost of living according to the Utah Division of Forestry, Fires and State Lands.

6 days ago

Sponsored Articles

a doctor putting her hand on the chest of her patient...

Intermountain Health

Intermountain nurse-midwives launch new gynecology access clinic

An access clinic launched by Intermountain nurse-midwives provides women with comprehensive gynecology care.

Young couple hugging while a realtor in a suit hands them keys in a new home...

Utah Association of Realtors

Buying a home this spring? Avoid these 5 costly pitfalls

By avoiding these pitfalls when buying a home this spring, you can ensure your investment will be long-lasting and secure.

a person dressed up as a nordic viking in a dragon boat resembling the bear lake monster...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

The Legend of the Bear Lake Monster

The Bear Lake monster has captivated people in the region for centuries, with tales that range from the believable to the bizarre.

...

Live Nation Concerts

All the artists coming to Utah First Credit Union Amphitheatre (formerly USANA Amp) this summer

Summer concerts are more than just entertainment; they’re a celebration of life, love, and connection.

Mother and cute toddler child in a little fancy wooden cottage, reading a book, drinking tea and en...

Visit Bear Lake

How to find the best winter lodging in Bear Lake, Utah

Winter lodging in Bear Lake can be more limited than in the summer, but with some careful planning you can easily book your next winter trip.

Happy family in winter clothing at the ski resort, winter time, watching at mountains in front of t...

Visit Bear Lake

Ski more for less: Affordable ski resorts near Bear Lake, Utah

Plan your perfect ski getaway in Bear Lake this winter, with pristine slopes, affordable tickets, and breathtaking scenery.

Retail spending fell in March as consumers pull back