Consumer Spending Slows In May

After a surprisingly strong first quarter, consumers in May took a more practical approach to their spending. According to the National Retail Federation, the world’s largest retail trade association, May retail sales (excluding automobile, gas stations and restaurants) decreased 0.3 percent seasonally adjusted from April but increased 4.8 percent unadjusted year-over-year, marking 23 consecutive months of retail sales growth.

“As the first industry to feel any backlash from consumers’ attitudes about the revival of the economy, retailers are far from discouraged by May’s sales report, it’s evident that consumers are simply taking a breath,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay in a prepared statement. “Going forward, retailers will make sure to keep a steady eye on key economic indicators, being cautious with inventory and promotions as back to school – the second biggest time of the year – approaches.”

May retail sales, released today by the U.S. Department of Commerce, showed total retail and food services sales (which includes non-general merchandise categories such as automobiles, gasoline stations, and restaurants) decreased 0.2 percent seasonally adjusted month-to-month but increased 7.1 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

“This economy thus far is working like an old machine with many fits, starts and even some sputtering,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “Overall though, consumers are benefiting from the slow but steady decline in gasoline prices and we expect growth will resume, and should pick up through the fall.”

Other findings from the May retail sales figures include:

  • Clothing and clothing accessories stores' sales increased 0.9 percent seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and increased 7.3 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  •  Electronics and appliance stores’ sales increased 0.8 percent seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and 1.2 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Furniture and home furnishing stores’ sales increased 0.4 percent seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and 11.4 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  •  Health and personal care stores’ sales decreased 0.1 percent seasonally-adjusted month-to-month but increased 3.1 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores’ sales decreased 0.1 percent seasonally-adjusted month-to-month but increased 9.1 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

As the world’s largest retail trade association and the voice of retail worldwide, NRF represents retailers of all types and sizes, including chain restaurants and industry partners, from the United States and more than 45 countries abroad. Retailers operate more than 3.6 million U.S. establishments that support one in four U.S. jobs – 42 million working Americans. Contributing $2.5 trillion to annual GDP, retail is a daily barometer for the nation’s economy. 

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