Consumer confidence, high spending fuel retail sales

Department of Commerce releases May retail sales figures

WASHINGTON — Retail sales are up nearly 5% from one year ago, according to the latest numbers from the Department of Commerce.

Amid improved consumer confidence and higher spending, May retail sales — which exclude cars, gas stations and restaurants — increased 4.8% from May 2012 and 0.6% from last month.

"The American consumer continues to drive the U.S. economy," said Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation, a Washington-based trade group. "In spite of fluctuating gas prices, severe weather in much of the country and fiscal policy uncertainty, consumers continue to demonstrate an inherent resiliency and flexibility. We should never underestimate the role and strength of the American shopper or the retailers that serve them."

Stores that specialize in heath and personal care had sales increase by 0.5% since last May and by 0.2% since last month, while building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers saw sales increase by 9.3% since last May and by 0.9% since last month. General merchandise stores experienced a 2.3% sales increase since last May and a 0.5% increase since last month.

Some analysts expect retail sales to remain under pressure, but still increase.

"We continue to believe that consumer spending and retail sales growth will remain modest during the balance of 2013 due to fiscal restraint-oriented pressure on personal income," Guggenheim Securities analyst John Heinbockel wrote in a note to investors following the release of the Commerce Department numbers. "There will likely, however, be a weather-driven pick-up in the next month or two on a catch-up in summer seasonal spending. In a modest growth environment, we favor share gaining consumables-driven retailers like the dollar stores."

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