Home sales pick up despite below-par May

Don Hogsett, June 17, 2002

Hard hit by falling prices at the gas pump and lagging car sales, retail sales fell back by 0.9 percent in May, their sharpest decline since last November, the U.S. Commerce Department reported.

But excluding the volatile auto sector, retail sales declined at a more moderate rate of 0.4 percent, not entirely unexpected given the dampening effect of unseasonably cool weather.

The biggest hit was taken at the gas pump, where sales fell by 3.1 percent, largely reflecting the lower price of gasoline.

Clothing and apparel retailers were hard hit as well, sales dropping by 2.8 percent, as cool weather stunted sales of bathing suits and other warm-weather togs.

But sales of home-related merchandise picked up steam during May, most notably the red-hot electronics & appliance retailers, where sales jumped up by 2.1 percent. Furniture and home furnishings stores had a strong month as well, pushing sales up by 0.9 percent, and extending a recent string of gains that dates back to before Christmas. The only home category that declined was the building material and garden supplies channel, where sales were off by 0.4 percent, hampered by the unseasonably cool weather.

Hurt by stalled-out sales of full-price seasonal merchandise, department stores continued their long decline, sales falling off by 2.2 percent. Non-store retailers continued to gain, rising by 1.6 percent.

Retail sales in May (by channel)

Source: U.S. Department of Commerce
Electronics & appliance stores +2.1%
Non-store retailers +1.6
Sporting gods, hobby, books & music +1.0
Furniture & home furnishings +0.9
Grocery stores +0.6
Gas stations -3.1%
Clothing & apparel stores -2.8
Car dealers -2.5
Department stores -2.2
Building materials & garden supplies -0.4

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