Cold Weather & Economic Policy Dampen Retail Sales

First Monthly Decline in Retail Sales since October 2012 -

Consumers cooled spending in March as the impact of colder weather across the country and harmful fiscal policy, namely the payroll tax hike, caught up to the economy and weakened retail sales. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), the world's largest retail trade association, March retail sales (excluding automobiles, gas stations and restaurants) decreased 0.2 percent seasonally adjusted from last month and increased 1.6 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

"Retail is the vehicle that drives our economy, and the consumer dictates the speed," NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. "With consumer confidence low, Washington decision makers need to focus on a long-term, economic roadmap that creates fiscal certainty for American families. And we need policies that encourage job growth and capital investment by business generally and the retail industry specifically, an industry that supports one in four American jobs. Without either, economic recovery will continue to sputter along, and the consumer will keep their foot off the pedal."

March retail sales, released today by the U.S. Department of Commerce, showed total retail and food services sales (which include non-general merchandise categories such as automobiles, gasoline stations, and restaurants) decreased 0.4 percent seasonally adjusted month-to-month and increased 2.8 percent adjusted year-over-year.

"The fall off in spending is no surprise," said NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz. "A colder-than-usual winter, an anemic employment picture and delays in tax refunds impacted consumer spending across the board in March. While we remain optimistic that retail sales will grow modestly this year, it seems like the economy is off to a shaky start as we enter the second quarter. Improving housing prices and lower gas prices may help to offset the toll of increased taxes and sequester."

Other findings from NRF include:

* Building material & garden equipment and supplies dealers stores' sales increased 0.1 percent seasonally-adjusted and decreased 2.1 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

* Clothing and clothing accessories stores' sales increased 0.1 percent seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and increased 3.1 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

* Electronics and appliance stores' sales decreased 1.6 percent seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and decreased 4.5 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

* Furniture and home furnishing stores' sales increased 0.9 percent seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and increased 0.8 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

* General merchandise stores' sales decreased 1.2 seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and decreased 3.6 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

* Health and personal care stores' sales were decreased 0.3 seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and decreased 0.8 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

* Nonstore retailers' sales increased 0.3 percent seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and increased 10.1 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

* Sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores' sales decreased 0.8 percent seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and increased 4.5 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

As the world's largest retail trade association and the voice of retail worldwide, NRF represents retailers of all types and sizes, including chain restaurants and industry partners, from the United States and more than 45 countries abroad. Retailers operate more than 3.6 million U.S. establishments that support one in four U.S. jobs – 42 million working Americans. Contributing $2.5 trillion to annual GDP, retail is a daily barometer for the nation's economy. NRF's This is Retail campaign highlights the industry's opportunities for life-long careers, how retailers strengthen communities at home and abroad, and the critical role that retail plays in driving innovation.

Study:Fracking Causes No Contamination

A new study concludes that there is "no direct evidence that fracking itself has contaminated groundwater."

The study is significant because environmental groups have claimed that the practice should be abandoned because of the possibility it could damage aquifers, and they are pressuring political policy to curtail the use of the new technology, even though it is driving an oil and natural gas boom in the US, that has helped pull the country out of its economic doldrums.

Read more: Study:Fracking Causes No Contamination

Beall Trailers Files Bankruptcy

The parent company of Beall Trailers in Lockwood, has filed for bankruptcy protection. Beall Corp. of Portland, Oregon filed on Sept. 24 for Chapter 11 in eight states for protection from creditors to give the company an opportunity to reorganize.

Beall operates a sales and service center, as well as a manufacturing plant in Lockwood.

Beall said in a press release that they lack the capital needed to deal with almost a record level of back orders for trailers and tanks made by the company.

Read more: Beall Trailers Files Bankruptcy

Dakota Prairie Refinery Celebrates Start of Construction

Construction of the Dakota Prairie Refinery began March 26 with a groundbreaking ceremony held by the developers, MDU Resources Group, Inc. and Calumet Specialty Products Partners, L.P.

Construction of the diesel refinery, on a 318-acre site located west of Dickinson, N.D. is expected to take approximately 20 months. The refinery will process 20,000 barrels per day of Bakken crude oil. It will employ 400 to 500 employees during peak construction and about 100 employees when it is operating.

Read more: Dakota Prairie Refinery Celebrates Start of Construction

US Census Releases Data Showing Downtown of Large Cities Growing

A U.S. Census Bureau report released shows that in many of the largest cities of the most-populous metro areas, downtown is becoming a place not only to work but also to live. Between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, metro areas with 5 million or more people experienced double-digit population growth rates within their downtown areas (within a two-mile radius of their largest city's city hall), more than double the rate of these areas overall.

Read more: US Census Releases Data Showing Downtown of Large Cities Growing

New EPA Regs will Impact Coal Markets

Newly proposed rules to cut carbon dioxide emissions would effectively stop the building of most new coal-fired plants and curb coal markets, the latter being a significant impact to Montana and the prospects for developing the state's vast coal reserves.

The Obama Administration proposed the new rules last week, promising to spark considerable controversy in an election year.

Read more: New EPA Regs will Impact Coal Markets

Construction Employment

Construction employment increased in 145 out of 339 metropolitan areas between January 2012 and January 2013, declined in 141 and was stagnant in 53, according to a new analysis of federal employment data released recently the Associated General Contractors of America. Association officials noted that after years of declining construction employment contractors in some metro areas are beginning to worry about the availability of skilled workers now that they have resumed hiring.

Read more: Construction Employment

Growth Means Commitment to Manufacturing

The future of manufacturing could hang in the balance of the coming election according to Jay Timmons, President  & CEO of the National Association of Manufacturing (NAM), in speaking to two business groups in Missoula, recently.

"Everyone is talking about manufacturing. The reason is because manufacturing is what drives a successful economy. Our country took it for granted for a number of years, but policy-makers woke up to the fact that manufacturing has the highest multiplier effect on the economy," both in terms of investment and jobs.

Read more: Growth Means Commitment to Manufacturing

Construction Job Losses Continue in US

Construction employment declined in 146 out of 337 metropolitan areas between November 2010 and November 2011, increased in 131 and stayed level in 60, according to a new analysis of federal employment data released by the Associated General Contractors of America. Association officials noted that construction employment is likely to continue declining in many areas because of a planned 6.2 percent cut in federal investments in construction and infrastructure for the 2012 fiscal year.

"There is no avoiding the pain that comes any time the single largest purchaser of construction services cuts investments by nearly 20 percent in two years," said Ken Simonson, the association's chief economist, noting that the fiscal year 2012 federal construction budget will be 18 percent smaller than the same budget for 2010. "It will take a lot more private sector growth to offset declining federal demand."


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