The Census Bureau reported that retail sales rose 0.1 percent in April, following strong gains in the first three months of the year. At least some of this pullback could be due to the unseasonably warm winter, which resulting in construction occurring earlier in the year than normal. As evidence of this, retail sales of building materials dropped 1.8 percent in April, a reversal from the 2.7 percent gain in March.
Other sectors with declining sales included clothing and accessories (down 0.7 percent), gasoline stations (down 0.3 percent) and general merchandise (down 0.1 percent). Nonetheless, there were areas of strength, too. The strongest monthly sales growth occurred with nonstore retailers (up 1.1 percent), furniture and home furnishings (up 0.7 percent), sporting goods and hobbies (up 0.7 percent), motor vehicle and parts (up 0.5 percent) and food service and drinking places (up 0.4 percent).
Year-over-year growth in retail sales currently stands at 6.4 percent, a slower pace than in past months. Six months ago in October, the annual rate of growth for retail sales was 8 percent.
These numbers suggest modest growth in retail sales overall. The slower pace in April was mostly due to seasonal factors as well as lower gasoline prices. So, it is important not to read too much into the easing of retail sales figures. Americans continued to grow their spending in other categories, with nonstore retailers leading the way.
Chad Moutray is chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.