Economy Watch: Retail Sales Edge Down in May

American shoppers pulled back a bit in May, according to the Census Bureau.

American shoppers pulled back a bit in May, according to the Census Bureau on Wednesday. Retail sales were down 0.2 percent compared with the previous month, but up 5.3 percent when compared with May 2011. Not counting autos and the drop was steeper: 0.4 percent month-over-month.

Though retail sales experienced a downtick during the month, they’ve nevertheless recovered (not adjusted for inflation) since the trough of 2008 and ’09. Sales are up 18.9 percent from the bottom, and now are 6.8 percent above the mid-2000s peak before the recession, notes the bureau.

Since the sales figures aren’t adjusted for price, the drop in the price of gas during May helped drive total retail sales down, though that wasn’t the only factor. More of the same seems to lie ahead: The news about retail sales apparently helped drive down the price of oil on word markets on Wednesday, though prices have already been going down. Brent crude, which is used to make most of the gasoline in the United States, has been trading under $100 a barrel for some time now, and gas is down 40 cents from this year’s high in early April.

Realtors report shrinking inventories

In its latest Monthly Housing Summary, the National Association of Realtors reported that the national inventory of for-sale single family homes, condos, townhouses and co-ops declined by a hair over 20 percent in May 2012 compared to a year ago. Inventories were down in all but two of the 146 markets that the organization tracks.

According to the NAR, evidence of a housing-market recovery exists in a growing number of markets once sucker-punched by the housing crisis, including older industrialized areas in the Northeast and the Midwest. For example, the recovery that began in Florida about one year ago has since spread to Phoenix and most recently California. At the same time, markets such as Reading and Allentown in Pennsylvania and Milwaukee continue to lag behind the rest of the country.

Median list prices in most markets are up year-over-year, the report also asserted. Some of the largest increases include Pheonix-Mesa, up 32.6 percent, and Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-Lompoc, up about 30 percent. Even Las Vegas’ asking prices are up by 4.6 percent.

Wall Street decided to head for the exits en masse on Wednesday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average losing 77.42 points, or 0.62 percent. The S&P 500 dropped 0.7 percent and the Nasdaq declined 0.86 percent.