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March Sales Slipped 10% At CE/Majap Stores: Feds

Washington — Sales at consumer electronics and appliance stores fell 10 percent in March from the comparable year-ago period, according to data released today by the U.S. Commerce Department.

Viewed sequentially, sales at CE and majap stores dropped 5.9 percent from February on a seasonally adjusted basis, the Commerce Department report showed. The year-over-year decline was unadjusted for calendar or holiday shifts.

Sales at sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores decreased 3 percent unadjusted over last year, and slipped 0.9 percent seasonally adjusted over last month.

According to analysts, the government’s monthly retail sales data is heavily skewed toward Best Buy within the CE/majap channel. The numbers also contradict anecdotal accounts from independent brown- and white-goods dealers who reported strong sales in March.

Shares of Best Buy slid 5 percent following the release of the Commerce Department report, which prompted a downgrade by analyst Stacy Widlitz of Pali Capital. Widlitz said the 10-percent CE/majap decline was the worst since December, and cited a drop in CE sales last month at Wal-Mart.

Total retail sales (which include non-general merchandise categories such as car dealerships, gasoline stations and restaurants) decreased 1.1 percent seasonally adjusted over February and decreased 10.6 percent unadjusted year over year. Retail industry sales for February were revised upward, increasing 0.3 percent instead of dipping 0.1 percent as originally reported.

Absent autos, gas and food, retail industry sales decreased 0.6 percent in March seasonally adjusted from February, and dropped 3.7 percent unadjusted over last year. The retail retreat was unexpected and cast a pall over recent indications of an economic recovery.

The National Retail Federation (NRF), the retail industry’s largest trade group, blamed the downturn on the weather and predicted improved numbers this month.

“A chilly start to spring and a late Easter combined for dreary March sales,” said NRF chief economist Rosalind Wells. “To compensate for the Easter shift, retailers typically look at March and April together to get a better look at how their stores performed. Easter should give a much-needed boost to April sales.”