NRF: April Retail Sales Show Resiliency

Retail industry sales for April (which exclude automobiles, gas stations, and restaurants) rose 2.3 percent unadjusted over last year and 0.6 percent seasonally adjusted month-to-month, according to the National Retail Federation.

April retail sales released today by the U.S. Commerce Department show total retail sales (which include non-general merchandise categories such as autos, gasoline stations and restaurants) decreased 0.2 percent seasonally adjusted from the previous month and increased 2.6 percent unadjusted year-over-year. 

“While it’s apparent that consumers are still holding back, the spring season helped get people back into stores,” said NRF Chief Economist Rosalind Wells. “The month-to-month sales increase was the largest we’ve seen since last November, a much welcomed reprieve.” 

As consumers continue to stick to necessity-type purchases, sales in health and beauty care stores increased 3.1 percent unadjusted year-over-year and 0.4 percent seasonally adjusted from last month, NRF said. 

Thanks to the onset of spring-like weather in much of the country, building material, garden equipment and supplies stores had slight sales increases for the first time in months, according to NRF. Sales increased 1.9 percent seasonally adjusted from March and 1.2 percent unadjusted year-over-year. Sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores sales also saw healthy increases. Sales rose 4.7 percent unadjusted year-over-year and 0.4 percent seasonally adjusted from last month. 

Electronics and appliance stores sales increased 5.1 percent unadjusted from last year and 1.4 percent seasonally adjusted from March.  Clothing and clothing accessories stores sales increased 0.7 percent seasonally adjusted from last month and 0.5 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

Brian Bethune, Global Insight chief U.S. Financial Economist, described the Fed April sales figures as “not too bad in view of widespread reports of extremely grumpy consumer sentiment,” adding that, “Overall, consumer spending continues to chug forward, albeit at very slow rates.”

The economic and financial intelligence firm said it expects consumer spending in the first two quarters of 2008 to advance at a rate of just under 1 percent.

“Slower growth in employment and compensation, and downward pressure on household net worth from declining home and equity asset prices is keeping consumer spending under wraps,” Bethune said. “Nevertheless, the tax rebates and transfers connected with the economic stimulus package will boost consumer spending in the third quarter to close to 3 percent.”