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Economy in Brief

U.S. Retail Sales Again Are Weak
by Tom Moeller  June 13, 2012

That makes two consecutive months during which consumers lost their inclination to spend. Retail sales slipped 0.2% during May following downward revisions to sales during the prior two months. The April decline of 0.2% was revised from +0.2% reported last month and the 0.4% March gain was shaved from 0.7%. A 0.1% dip in May sales was expected according to Action Economics. Some strength in sales last month was provided by a 0.8% gain in sales of motor vehicles & parts (10.0% y/y). Less autos, retail sales fell 0.4% versus expectations of no change. April's decline of 0.3% was revised from +0.1% and March's gain of 0.5% was clipped from 0.8%.

Notable weakness in sales overall was provided by building materials, off 1.7% last month and by 2.3% in April. Also, lower gasoline prices caused a 2.2% decline (+0.6% y/y) in purchases at service stations. Less autos, building materials and gasoline, retail sales ticked up just 0.1% (4.3% y/y) in May after no change during April.

Discretionary spending fared better last month as evidenced by a 0.6% gain (4.0% y/y) in sales of home furnishings, appliances and electronics. Furniture store sales rose 0.4% (8.7% y/y) while appliance and electronics purchases recovered 0.8% (-0.1% y/y). Sales of apparel & accessory stores also recovered 0.9% (5.4% y/y) but that followed a steep 1.2% April drop. Still struggling were sales of general merchandise, off 0.5% (+0.7% y/y) for the third consecutive monthly decline. Food & beverages store sales fell 0.2% (+7.4% y/y) while sales of health & personal care stores slipped 0.1% (+1.7% y/y). Sales of nonstore retailers rose a strong 1.3% (12.4% y/y), about even with their gains during the prior three months.

The retail sales figure are available in Haver's USECON database. The Action Economics figures are in the AS1REPNA database.

Retail Spending (%) May Apr Mar May Y/Y 2011 2010 2009
Total Retail Sales & Food Services -0.2 -0.2 0.4 5.3 8.0 5.5 -7.1
  Excluding Autos -0.4 -0.3 0.5 4.3 7.3 4.5 -5.7
Retail Sales -0.2 -0.3 0.3 5.0 8.2 5.8 -7.9
  Motor Vehicle & Parts 0.8 0.1 -0.1 10.0 10.9 10.8 -13.9
 Retail excluding Autos -0.4 -0.4 0.4 3.8 7.6 4.7 -6.4
  Gasoline Stations -2.2 -1.4 0.4 5.5 17.7 14.7 -22.0
 Non-Auto Less Gasoline -0.1 -0.1 0.5 4.9 5.9 3.2 -3.4
Food Service -0.2 0.5 1.0 7.4 5.9 3.2 -0.9
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