Retail sales buoyed by strong car numbers

Don Hogsett, Staff Staff, June 21, 2004

Driven by stronger car sales, which rebounded from a prior-month drop, and at the same time fueled by higher prices at the pump, retail sales climbed faster than expected during May, rising 1.2 percent to $335.8 billion.

Sales advanced 8.4 percent from their year-before level of $308.4 billion during May 2003, the Commerce Department reported.

Skewing the monthly figure sharply higher was a big move in auto sales, which ran up 2.7 percent, reversing a prior-month decline of 2.1 percent. Over the past 12 months, car sales advanced at a pace of 5.9 percent, lagging the overall gain in retail sales.

A big negative affecting the monthly number was the rising cost of gas, which pushed gas station sales up 4 percent, following a small 0.3 percent increase during March. With prices at the pump rocketing higher, gas station sales have now soared 22.5 percent over May 2003 levels, the agency reported.

Helped by stronger fashion and sales of seasonal apparel, sales in clothing and accessories stores improved 0.9 percent during May, recovering modestly from a 2.3 percent drop in April.

Sales of home-related products were mixed. Electronics and appliance stores saw a slight 0.1 percent uptick, but furniture and home furnishings stores dropped off by 0.6 percent. Hard hit, however, in part by erratic weather patterns across the country, were sales in building material and garden supply shops, where sales declined 1.4 percent.

RETAIL SALES IN MAY (by channel)

Source: U.S. Department of Commerce
Gas stations +4.0%
Car Dealers +2.7
Health & personal care stores +0.9
Clothing & accessories stores +0.9
Department stores +0.8
Electronics & appliances stores +0.1
Sporting goods, hobby, books & music stores +0.1
Building material & garden supply stores -1.4%
Furniture & home furnishings stores -0.6
Restaurants and bars -0.3

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