Economy Watch: Retail Sales Surprise on the Upside

Americans decided to go shopping with considerable gusto in April, with retail sales increasing 1.3 percent month-over-month, and up 3 percent compared with April 2015, according to the Census Bureau.

Americans decided to go shopping with considerable gusto in April, with retail sales increasing 1.3 percent month-over-month, and up 3 percent compared with April 2015, according to the Census Bureau on Friday. The small uptick in gas prices during the month didn’t really add that much to the overall increase. Not counting gas sales, retail sales were up a healthy 1.2 percent for the month.

Every category of retailer except building materials and supplies gained for the month. Car sales advanced 3.2 percent, a turnaround for the category for recent months, and non-store (Internet) sales were up 2.2 percent month-over-month. Even department stores, which have been limping along since more modern models of retail started drinking their milkshakes, eked out a 0.3 percent gain for the month.

Compared with last year, almost all categories gained, except for gas stations because of the drop in gas prices; department stores because of the aforementioned milkshake reason; and electronics stores, because the Internet is chipping away at their sales. Non-store retailers did the best of all year-over-year in April, according to the bureau: up 10.2 percent.

Also on Friday, the University of Michigan reported that consumer sentiment rebounded in early May due to more frequent income gains, an improved jobs outlook, and the expectation of lower inflation and interest rates. The index came in at 95.8 for mid-May, up from 89.0 in April. Nearly all of the gains were in the Expectations Index, which rose to its highest level in nearly a year.