Retail sales edge up
Retail sales began to move up in the 1st quarter as consumers recovered from the pandemic. After an increase of 3.8% in January, retail sales were up 0.3% in February, according to the March DOC retail sales report. Compared with the same period a year earlier, retail sales were up 17.6% in February.
Auto sales were up 0.9% for the month in February and 17.2% from a year earlier; building material sales were up 0.9% for the month and 17.0% from a year earlier; and department store sales were up 1.6% for the month and 22.8% from a year earlier.
Non-store retailers (primarily online) were down 3.7% for the month but up 13.8% from a year earlier. Restaurants and bars continued to recover, with sales at food services and drinking establishments up 2.5% for the month and 33.0% from a year earlier.
Unemployment drops to 3.6%
The economy added 431,000 new jobs in March following the addition of 750,000 new jobs in February and 504,000 new jobs in January, according to the Employment Situation Report issued April 1 by the Department of Labor. The unemployment rate dropped by 0.2% in March for the second consecutive month to just 3.6%, which is generally considered full employment.
Employment growth remained strong in several industries, including professional and business services, leisure and hospitality, food services and drinking places, manufacturing, and retail.
Average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls was up $0.13 per hour in March at $31.73 per hour. Over the past 12 months, average earnings have increased by 5.6%.
Energy leads all sectors by wide margin
The Energy sector of the S&P 500 moved up 39.03% in the 1st quarter, while all other sectors except Utilities suffered declines for the quarter. Utilities, which led all sectors in March with a gain of 10.36%, was up 4.77% in the 1st quarter. Communications Services posted the biggest quarterly drop, down 11.92%, followed by Consumer Discretionary, down 9.03%.
The chart below shows the results of the 11 sectors for the past month and 1st quarter: