Michigan retailers’ outlook rose for the second quarter, despite March sales that remained essentially flat, according to the Michigan Retail Index, a joint project of Michigan Retailers Association and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
It was the fourth consecutive month that retailers’ short-term sale predictions have risen. It was also the first time since last August that more retailers forecast increases than decreases for the next three-month period.
Retailers’ short-term forecasts fell sharply last fall after the meltdown in the financial markets, hitting a low point in November. Since then, they have improved gradually, demonstrating greater confidence in the economy. There is still a long, long way to go, but we see this as a positive trend.
The Michigan Retail Index survey for March found that 31 percent of retailers increased sales over the same month last year, while 55 percent recorded declines and 14 percent saw no change. The results create a seasonally adjusted performance index of 39.4, down slightly from 40.8 in February.
Index values above 50 generally indicate an increase in positive activity, while values below 50 indicate a decrease.
Looking ahead, 39 percent of retailers said they expect higher sales April-June over the same period last year, while 36 percent project a decrease and 25 percent no change. That puts the seasonally adjusted outlook index at 47.8, up from 44.6 in February and the most positive outlook since 53.4 last August.
Apparel retailers appeared to post the strongest results during March.
James P. Hallan is president and CEO of the Michigan Retailers Association, the nation’s largest state trade association of general merchandise retailers.