Nevada’s retail sales continue to surpass national gains.
U.S. retail sales in March rose by the largest amount in 18 months, led by strong gains in sales of autos, furniture and a number of other products, according to a report by the Commerce Department on Monday.
The 1.1 percent jump was the best showing since September 2012. The government also revised February to a 0.7 percent gain, more than double its previous estimate.
But Nevada has seen continuous growth in retail sales for the last 48 months, according to the Retail Association of Nevada.
“We’re probably doing a bit better than our national counterparts,” said association spokesperson Bryan Wachter. He added that while sales had fallen nationally in January and December, Nevada had a strong winter season.
U.S. sales of automobiles climbed 3.1 percent while sales at general merchandise stores, a category that covers retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target and department stores, increased 1.9 percent, the strongest one-month gain since March 2007, before the country fell into recession.
“We’re definitely seeing an increase in larger ticket items,” Wachter said. People are started buying items they may have been putting off, like vehicles and furniture.
“I think it speaks to consumer confidence,” he said.
Strong national gains in March provide more evidence that the economy is emerging from a harsh winter with some momentum, and economists believe that warmer weather will encourage people to make purchases that they had not during a wave of winter storms.
Consumers account for 70 percent of U.S. economic activity, so spending on that front is critical in fueling a stronger recovery.
“Rising wealth, shrinking debt burdens and improving labor markets are helping American shoppers shake off the winter blahs,” Sal Guatieri, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets, told the Associated Press.
Guatieri said he believed overall economic growth slowed to a 1.2 percent annual rate in the January-March quarter but will rebound to growth of 3.3 percent in the second quarter.
Many analysts believe a strong rebound in the current quarter will last through the rest of the year with growth averaging around 3 percent in the second half of 2014.
For March, sales in a core category of products that feed into the government’s calculations of overall growth rose by 0.9 percent, more than double the 0.5 percent gain in February.
In addition to the strong showing for auto dealers and general merchandise stores, sales increased nationally by solid amounts at furniture stores, hardware stores and clothing stores.
Stronger growth is expected to translate into more hiring and an improving labor market.
In March, the economy reached a milestone that was a long time coming. All of the private-sector jobs lost during the recession were recovered. Private businesses shed 8.8 million jobs during the 2007-2009 economic downturn. With the March gains, they have now hired 8.9 million workers. Government jobs are still below prerecession levels.
In March, employers added 192,000 U.S. jobs, just below February’s gain of 1972,000 jobs. Going forward, some economists believe the stronger economy will lift the national average monthly job gains to around 225,000. That will mean more income earners and more consumer spending.
Wachter said warehouse and home improvement stores have been performing so well in Nevada that they have begun hiring again.
“Unemployment numbers are still high,” Wachter said. “As unemployment drops, retail sales will rise.”
A more optimistic outlook for this year in which the economy gains momentum is the reason that the Federal Reserve has been trimming its monthly bond purchases and is expected to keep doing so throughout 2014. The bond purchases were designed to keep long-term interest rates low to give the economy a boost. But with the economy gaining strength, Fed officials have come to believe that the level of government support should be removed gradually.
Here in Nevada, Wachter said strong, measured growth should be expected.
“We’re going to continue to grow at a 4 or 5 percent rate,” he said. “We’re optimistic that 2014 will be better than 2013.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Wesley Juhl at email@example.com and 702-383-0381. Find him on Twitter: @WesJuhl.