Canadian retailers recorded their largest sales gain in five months in March, as the nation’s households continued their car buying binge.
Receipts were up 0.6 percent during the month, as sales in the auto sector jumped 3 percent, Statistics Canada reported Friday. Economists were anticipating a 0.3 percent gain in sales.
It was a strong end to a quarter for retailers, after a sluggish start to a year — a rebound that may ease concerns about any dramatic pullback in spending by consumers. Even with the higher sales in March, receipts in the first quarter were down from the last three months of 2017, the first quarterly decline since 2015.
The picture was less rosy outside of the auto sector. Excluding cars, sales were down 0.2 percent. Economists were expecting a 0.5 percent gain for that measure.
While Canadians bought more cars, they spent less at the pump with sales at gasoline stations down 1.9 percent during the month despite higher prices.
Total sales excluding price increases were up 0.8 percent in March, also the strongest since October.
Sales were up in six of 11 subsectors, representing 53 percent of total retail tradeClothing stores also produced a strong gain in March, up 2.5 percentQuebec and Ontario were the main contributors to the rise in retail sales
— With assistance by Erik Hertzberg