Retail sales up 0.5% in March despite soaring inflation

Americans kept spending in March even amid higher prices for food, gasoline and other basics, worsened by Russia’s escalating war with Ukraine

Retail sales increased 0.5% after registering a revised O.8% jump from January to February. Spending has been fueled by wage gains, solid hiring and more money in banking accounts. January’s increase of 4.9% was the biggest jump in spending since March 2021, when American households received a final federal stimulus check of $1,400.

The Commerce Department reported Thursday that general merchandise stores saw business up 5.4%, while sales at clothing stores rose 2.6%. Online sales rose 6.4% Restaurant sales rose 1%.

Retailers are closely monitoring Russia’s war with Ukraine and how it could weigh on shoppers’ confidence but also worsen inflation. The conflict has already limited supplies of wheat, vegetable oils, and electronic components like chips. It’s also pushed up fertilizer prices that were already high, made scarce supplies even harder to find and squeezed farmers, especially those in the developing world. In addition to the Russian invasion, rising COVID-19 cases and renewed restrictions in China could worsen supply chain issues.

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