The Census Bureau reported that retail sales rose 0.1 percent in April. The consensus estimate had been for a decline of 0.3 percent. With that said, much of the increase could be explained by more spending on autos, with motor vehicle and parts purchases up 1.0 percent. This continues strong growth in the auto sector, with retail sales up 8.8 percent year-over-year.
Outside of autos, retail sales dropped 0.1 percent. The largest drag on purchasing growth stemmed from gasoline station sales, which dropped 4.7 percent in April. This extends the 3.2 percent loss in March, and year-over-year spending was down 4.6 percent. Lower gasoline prices were the primary factor in reducing the amount. The average price of West Texas intermediate crude oil was $92.02 per barrel in April, down from $95.31 in February and $92.94 in March.
The good news is that when you exclude auto and gasoline station sales, retail purchases rose 0.6 percent, suggesting that there were some broader strengths to report beyond the headlines. Businesses with increased sales in April included building materials (up 1.5 percent), nonstore retailers (up 1.4 percent), clothing and accessories (up 1.2 percent), and general merchandise stores (up 1.0 percent). At the same time, there were declines among food and beverage (down 0.8 percent) and health and personal care (down 0.1 percent) stores.
Chad Moutray is chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.