Thursday, June 11, 2009
The Commerce Department reported that retail sales rose 0.5 percent in May, following a decline of 0.2 percent in April, the increase driven largely by higher gasoline prices.
This was the first increase in three months, only the third gain in the last 11 months, and retail sales are now down 9.6 percent from year ago levels.
The closing of thousands of Chrysler and GM dealers spurred auto sales which rose 0.4 percent in May but are now down 21.7 percent on a year-over-year basis, as customers snapped up cars and trucks at reduced prices.
Sales at building material and garden equipment stores also rebounded, up 1.3 percent last month but down 10.3 percent from a year ago. This was the first monthly increase in 11 months for this sector that has been hit hard by the housing market bust, but more consumers visited Lowes and Home Depot in May.
A total of seven of the 13 retail categories saw increases in sales, but is was gasoline station sales that had the biggest impact on the bottom line.
Following a decrease of 0.8 percent in April, sales at gasoline stations rose 3.6 percent in May, but they are down 33.8 percent from a year ago, mostly as a result of the change in gasoline prices rather than the quantity of fuel purchased.
Excluding gasoline sales, retail sales sales rose just 0.2 percent, less than half the headline figure of a 0.5 percent gain, in one more example of how the retail sales data is unduly affected by rising and falling energy prices.
Recall that in early-2008, higher levels of overall consumer spending were being reflected in this data due to soaring prices at the pump but, once energy costs began tumbling over the summer, the headline retail sales figures also plummeted.