Report: Consumer spending up in March

ATLANTA Consumer spending in the U.S. retail sector, including restaurants, showed its strongest signs yet of recovery last month, according to a Friday report from First Data, a payment card processing firm.

In the Atlanta-based company’s “SpendTrend Report” for March of 2010, First Data said a stabilized unemployment rate, a 10-percent year-to-year increase in tax returns and early Easter spending powered the retail industry to its highest gains in dollar volume and transactions in two years. The sector posted an increase of 11.5 percent in same-store dollar volume and 10.1 percent in transactions, the report said. Comparable dollar volume had grown 8.4 percent in February, while comparable transactions had increased 6.9 percent in February.

First Data’s SpendTrend tracks consumer spending via credit, signature debit, PIN debit and EBT cards at U.S. merchant locations that use the vendor’s systems.

The foodservice industry had the lowest rate of growth in same-store dollar volume in March, at 4.6 percent. However, that figure still was significantly better than the industry’s comparable-sales growth measured through 2009, which included quarterly increases of 0.9 percent, 1.1 percent, 1.2 percent and 2 percent in the first, second, third and through fourth quarters, respectively.

In recent weeks, LongHorn Steakhouse, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, McDonald’s, Domino’s Pizza and Buffalo Wild Wings were among the restaurant companies reporting positive monthly or quarterly same-store sales figures.

Gasoline stations by far had the biggest increase in same-store dollar volume in March, at 39.2 percent, due mainly to higher fuel prices. Excluding gas station numbers, the sales-growth figure for March fell from an increase of 11.5 percent to an increase of 10.2 percent. Other retail industries finished with the following dollar volume increases: travel, 14 percent; services, 13.6 percent; leisure, 12.1 percent; retail, 10.3 percent; grocery stores, 7.5 percent; and hotels, 6.9 percent.

According to First Data’s report, restaurants’ same-store transaction counts grew 10.2 percent in March, which put it in the middle of the pack compared with other retail sectors.

The SpendTrend report also found that restaurants’ same-store average ticket decreased by 5.1 percent. However, that figure was lower than the foodservice industry’s quarterly results for 2009, which ranged from a 7.1-percent decrease to a 5.6-percent decrease.

First Data, with U.S. headquarters in Atlanta, is a global technology and payment processing firm, which says its services more than five million merchant locations, more than 2,000 credit and debit card issuers, and millions of consumers worldwide.

Contact Mark Brandau at [email protected] [3].