Retail sales strengthen in April, brightening economic outlook

Retail sales strengthen in April, brightening economic outlook

U.S. retail sales increased 0.4 percent in April and 4.5 percent from the same time past year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Compared with a year ago, vehicle sales were up 4.4 percent. Sales ticked up just 0.1 percent in March and fell in February. Factor out auto sales, and total retail sales for the month were up 0.3 percent. Gasoline stations sales were up 12.3% from April 2016, while Nonstore Retailers were up 11.9% from a year ago. The housing recovery has been an important variable in consumers' willingness to spend.

The slowdown in consumer spending over the winter added to the woes of many retailers.

The increase suggests that consumers are poised to spur faster growth in the April-June quarter after the economy barely expanded in the first three months of the year.

"The backdrop is generally favourable for consumers, with an unemployment rate of 4.4 per cent, gradually improving wage pressures, low borrowing costs and high household wealth", Michelle Meyer and other Bank of America economists wrote in a note before the data.

"While the interplay between consumer confidence and spending is hard to gauge, retail sales trends and recent consumer sentiment readings are consistent with a pickup in the pace of the economy in the coming months", NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said in a blog posting.

The Federal Reserve, in a policy statement last week, said that "the fundamentals underpinning the continued growth of consumption remained solid". Bankruptcies are far outpacing last year's rate.

Data issued today by the United States Department of Commerce and the National Retail Federation (NRF) for April retail sales were similar in that they showed mild sequential gains and larger annual gains.

Non-store retailers - primarily e-commerce and catalog businesses - saw an 11.9% sales increase over April a year ago, and were up 1.4% from revised March numbers. Sales were up at gasoline stations and building-materials stores, but fell at furniture and clothing stores.

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