April Retail Sales

Weather may have gotten a bad rap in the first quarter.  Many indicators Atlas follows were weak in the first three months of the year, and the harsh conditions became a plausible explanation for the economy’s lethargy.  Retail sales data for April did not show signs of a strong bounce back according to data from the Census Bureau. Month-over-month, retailers only sold $403 million more than in March on a seasonally adjusted basis, an uptick of just 0.1 percent, and the weather was much friendlier in the period across the nation.  To be fair, March’s growth was upwardly revised to 1.5 percent from 1.2 percent, making the monthly comparison a little tougher for April.

Motor vehicle & parts sales helped the overall tally remain positive.  When these components are removed from the count, the monthly change is marginally negative.  Americans poured less money into furniture and other home furnishing than a month earlier.  Spending at electronics and appliance stores fell in the period.  Non-store retailers also saw revenues cut for the month, and this category includes internet shopping, so we cannot just blame the weak spending growth on the brick and mortar stores or the weather.

Retail sales are a large component of personal expenditures and are reported monthly, so they can provide timely insight into the changing behavior of the consumer.  April’s paltry growth points to some hesitance by Americans to part with their cash.  The year-over-year comparison is positive, up 4.0 percent, so the trend is still higher, but consumers will need to open their wallets more in the months ahead in order to keep the economy moving forward.          (by C. Cox)