The Census Bureau said that retail sales picked up in April after slowing in February and March. Spending in the retail sector increased 0.4 percent in April, and sales in March were revised higher, up 0.1 percent instead of falling by 0.2 percent in the original estimate. After falling for three consecutive months, motor vehicle and parts sales rebounded in April, up 0.7 percent. Excluding autos, retail sales increased by 0.3 percent for the month. In general, Americans have been more willing to open his/her pocketbook this year than at this time last year; yet, consumers have been more cautious through the first four months of 2017 than we might prefer. Along those lines, retail spending has risen 4.5 percent over the past 12 months. While that represents relatively strong growth in consumer sales year-over-year, it has edged lower since measuring 5.9 percent in January. For comparison purposes, the year-over-year rate for retail sales was 2.8 percent in April 2016.
Beyond automobiles, the retail sales figures in April were mostly higher. Retail segments with increased spending for the month included nonstore retailers (up 1.4 percent), electronics and appliance stores (up 1.3 percent), building material and garden supply stores (up 1.2 percent), health and personal care stores (up 0.8 percent) and sporting goods and hobby stores (up 0.6 percent), among others. In contrast, there were reduced sales for clothing and accessories stores (down 0.5 percent), furniture and home furnishings stores (down 0.5 percent), general merchandise stores (down 0.5 percent) and food and beverage stores (down 0.3 percent).
Since April 2016, the largest gains in retail spending were for gasoline stations (up 12.3 percent), nonstore retailers (up 11.9 percent), building material and garden supply stores (up 9.3 percent), motor vehicle and parts dealers (up 4.4 percent), food services and drinking places (up 3.9 percent) and furniture and home furnishings stores (up 3.8 percent). The large gain for gasoline stations stemmed mainly from higher prices. Meanwhile, the largest weakness was for department stores, with a year-over-year decline in sales of 3.7 percent.