May sales perked up

Kara Cox, Don Hogsett, June 16, 2003

Feeling better about the economy and an improving jobs outlook, American consumers pulled out their plastic and started shopping once again during May, pushing retail sales up by 0.1 percent from April, when sales fell by 0.3 percent, the Commerce Department reported.

And the retail picture is actually stronger than it looks on the surface. Putting a cap on overall retail sales during May was a steep 4.3 percent drop in sales at the nation's gas stations, reflecting a lower prices at the pump. Acting as another drag, auto sales slipped by 0.2 percent. Pull those out of the picture, and retail sales actually improved at a much faster pace of 0.6 percent.

Consumers focused on fixing up their homes during May. Sales of furniture and home furnishings stores jumped up by 1.1 percent in May, and related sales at electronics and appliance stores shot p even faster, rising by 2.9 percent. But cool, wet weather across much of the country kept do-it-yourselfers and gardeners indoors, and sales in building material and garden supply outlets were virtually flat.

Helped by sales of seasonal apparel, sales in clothing stores rallied after prolonged weakness, rising by 1.0 percent, and recovering from a 1.8 percent decline in April. Sales in department stores and discounters improved as well, gaining by 0.7 percent, bounding back from a deep 1.2 percent drop the month before.

Freeing up some cash for consumers to spend elsewhere, big-ticket auto sales fell by 0.2 percent, giving up some of the strong 1.7 percent increase recorded in April.

Retail Sales in May (by channel)

Source: U.S. Department of Commerce
Electronics & appliance stores +2.9%
Restaurants & bars +1.4
Furniture & home furnishings +1.1
Clothing & accessories +1.0
Department stores +0.7
Non-store retailers +0.6
Health & personal care +0.4
Building material & garden supplies +0.0
Gas stations -4.3%
Food & beverage -0.5
Grocery stores -0.3
Car dealers -0.2

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