The Census Bureau said that retail sales rose 1.3 percent in April, rebounding from a decline of 0.3 percent. Much of that improvement stemmed from better motor vehicles and parts sales, up 3.2 percent and offsetting the 3.2 percent decrease in the prior report. Other sectors with increased sales in April included gasoline stations (up 2.2 percent), nonstore retailers (up 2.1 percent), miscellaneous store retailers (up 1.5 percent), food and beverage stores (up 0.9 percent), health and personal care stores (up 0.9 percent) and furniture and home furnishings stores (up 0.7 percent), among others. The segment with reduced sales in April was building materials and garden supplies, down 1.0 percent.
Overall, consumers continue to spend modestly, with retail spending up 3.0 percent over the past 12 months. That is a decent pace, even if there remains a sense that the public might be holding back from even stronger spending. The year-over-year rate in February, for instance, was 3.6 percent.
It is also important to recognize the impact that lower gasoline prices have had on the data. Reduced prices have decreased gasoline station sales by 9.4 percent. Excluding gasoline stations, retail sales were up 4.1 percent year-over-year. As such, spending is perhaps better than the headline number suggests.