Consumers remained cautious in their spending in April, according to the Census Bureau. Retail sales were unchanged for the month, softening from the rebound seen in March. Overall, spending has decelerated significantly over the past few months, down from a year-over-year rate of 4.7 percent in November to just 0.9 percent in April.
With that said, the longer-term view is perhaps more encouraging than the headline number might suggest. Total retail spending includes gasoline station sales, which have fallen 22.0 percent since April 2014 on lower prices. Excluding gasoline stations, retail sales grew 3.6 percent year-over-year. This suggests modest growth in the broader retail market over the past 12 months. Still, this figure has also eased recently, down from 5.8 percent year-over-year in November.
The April data were highly mixed. Health and personal care stores (up 0.8 percent), sporting goods and hobby stores (up 0.8 percent), food services and drinking places (up 0.7 percent), building material and garden supply stores (up 0.3 percent) and clothing and accessory stores (up 0.2 percent) were bright spots. In contrast, department stores (down 2.2 percent), furniture and home furnishings (down 0.9 percent), electronics and appliance stores (down 0.4 percent), motor vehicles and parts (down 0.4 percent) and grocery stores (down 0.3 percent) each had reduced consumer spending levels for the month.
Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.