March retail sales brighten the economic outlook
U.S. retail sales increased 1.1% in March, the biggest month-over-month gain since September 2012 and a long-awaited sign of an economic thaw after an especially challenging winter.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, advance estimates of retail and food services sales for March, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences (but not for price changes) were $433.9 billion. This is a 3.8% improvement above March 2013.
Retail trade sales themselves were up 1.1% from February and 3.7% from last year.
For the three-month period of January through March 2014, non-store retailers experienced the biggest year-over-year percentage gain at 6.6%, followed by auto & other motor vehicle dealers (5.8%).
Sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores declined the most year-over-year at -6.3%.
Building material and garden equipment & supplies dealers were up a healthy 3.6%, netting $65.7 billion for the quarter. For the month of March, the category was above average, up 1.8% for the month and up 5.7% for the year.
Market Recap: RISI Crow’s Construction Materials Cost Index
A price index of lumber and panels used in actual construction for April 11, 2014
*Western – regional species perimeter foundation; Southern – regional species slab construction.
Crow’s Market Recap — A condensed recap of the market conditions for the major North American softwood lumber and panel products as reported in Crow’s Weekly Market Report.
Lumber: After SPF lumber mills approached the market early with discounts, sales activity began to percolate late Tuesday and increase significantly Wednesday. A large block of #2&Btr sold by one major producer overseas added some energy to the market, as did solid gains in futures Wednesday. While buyers perceived the potential for more downside to Southern Pine lumber prices, producers reported an increase in buyer inquiry. Improved weather increased optimism for a turnaround in prices. Sales momentum in the Coastal species lumber market increased, leading to price floors after early discounts. Wholesalers covered shorts and purchased some extra volumes. Buyers with jobs to cover did so at prices some perceived as the lowest they might experience in awhile. A slight rally at midweek gave traders a glimmer of hope that Inland species dimension lumber markets were improving. However, the jubilance was short lived, as activity slowed by week’s end. Many buyers remained on the sidelines, waiting for the market to establish a clearer direction. Offerings of Radiata Pine Mldg&Btr were light and sold easily at close to published levels. Radiata Pine Shop offerings were non-existent. Sales of Ponderosa Pine Mldg&Btr remained steady but uneventful, and prices continued to be firm but unchanged. Ponderosa Pine board producers reported increased inquiries from big box stores and national retail chains for #2&Btr. Sales of ESLP boards remained active, as buyers continued to seek that item as a replacement for Ponderosa Pine. Steady sales of Idaho White Pine boards were also reported. Sales of Eastern White Pine Premium grade quieted slightly. Sales activity continued to improve gradually in the Western Red Cedar lumber market. As in other markets, producers continued to experience transportation issues, prompting the late delivery of shipments to their destinations.
Panels: Even though weather improved in the lower 48 states, supply continued to be the controlling factor in OSB markets. Temperatures in the 60s and 70s in the upper Midwest could not overcome buyers’ lack of confidence in the markets. Increased sales activity in the Southern Pine plywood market on Wednesday and momentum through Thursday firmed discounted price levels. Wholesalers purchased moderate volumes, often leery of the degree of market strength. Improved sales at midweek removed discounts from the Western Fir plywood market, established floor pricing and sent prices higher from there. A wide array of buyers entered to replenish inventories. The tone of the Canadian plywood market was one of quiet resolve. With a few exceptions, producers reported light sales and inquiry. With most order files into the last week of April, mill sales managers were content to “wait it out for a bit” before considering price changes. The particleboard market continued to absorb recent price increases, and announcements of increases from other producers continued to enter the market. MDF sales were light. A few mills reported a second consecutive week of markedly slower sales, as customers worked off previous purchases.
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