The Census Bureau said that retail sales increased 1.2 percent in May, bouncing back from a softer April, where spending rose just 0.2 percent. On a year-over-year basis, consumers spent 2.7 percent more today than 12 months ago, a modest gain that represents a notable improvement from the 1.5 percent pace in the prior report. Still, these data continue to reflect the softer economic environment seen so far in 2015, with the year-over-year pace down from 4.7 percent in November.
With that said, these data have been skewed by changes in gasoline prices over the past year. Lower prices have resulted in a drop in sales, which are expressed in nominal terms, of 18.6 percent since May 2014. Retail spending excluding gasoline station sales was up 5.2 percent year-over-year in May, up from 4.3 percent in April. This suggests a stronger pace of overall consumer spending than the headline figure might indicate. (continue reading…)