Retail sales slow in May, but industry not worried

WASHINGTON — After a surprisingly strong first quarter, consumers have slowed their spending in May, according to the latest report from the National Retail Federation. The NRF reported that May retail sales (excluding automobile, gas stations and restaurants) decreased 0.3%seasonally adjusted from April but increased 4.8% unadjusted year-over-year, marking 23 consecutive months of retail sales growth.

“As the first industry to feel any backlash from consumers’ attitudes about the revival of the economy, retailers are far from discouraged by May’s sales report, it’s evident that consumers are simply taking a breath,” said NRF Ppresident and CEO Matthew Shay. “Going forward, retailers will make sure to keep a steady eye on key economic indicators, being cautious with inventory and promotions as back to school – the second biggest time of the year – approaches.”

May retail sales, released by the U.S. Department of Commerce, showed total retail and food services sales (which includes non-general merchandise categories such as automobiles, gasoline stations, and restaurants) decreased 0.2 percent seasonally adjusted month-to-month but increased 7.1% unadjusted year-over-year.

“This economy thus far is working like an old machine with many fits, starts and even some sputtering,” NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “Overall though, consumers are benefiting from the slow but steady decline in gasoline prices and we expect growth will resume, and should pick up through the fall.”

Other findings from the May retail sales figures include:

  • Clothing and clothing accessories stores' sales increased 0.9% seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and increased 7.3% unadjusted year-over-year.

  • Electronics and appliance stores’ sales increased 0.8% seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and 1.2% unadjusted year-over-year.

  • Furniture and home furnishing stores’ sales increased 0.4% seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and 11.4% unadjusted year-over-year. 

  • Health and personal care stores’ sales decreased 0.1% seasonally-adjusted month-to-month but increased 3.1% unadjusted year-over-year.

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  • Sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores’ sales decreased 0.1% seasonally-adjusted month-to-month but increased 9.1% unadjusted year-over-year.