WASHINGTON — U.S. retail sales experienced a small gain during the hottest month of the year, the Census Bureau reported.
The Census Bureau announced that advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for July, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $403.9 billion, an increase of 0.8% from the previous month and 4.1% above July 2011. Retail trade sales were up 0.8% from June and 3.7% above last year.
July marked the first gain the industry had in four months. The bigger-than-expected increase followed a 0.7% decline in June that was weaker than first reported.
Looking across retail categories, adjusted sales at grocery stores during the month rose about 0.4% to $47.3 billion. Health and personal care stores increase more than 1% to nearly $22.8 billion. Retail sales for drug stores and pharmacies were not recorded; however, sales experienced a decline from May to June (to $18.7 billion). General merchandise stores' sales rose 0.7% seasonally-adjusted month-to-month yet decreased 1.4% unadjusted year-over-year.
Commenting on the results, the National Retail Federation said the sales increase "demonstrates a confident yet cautious consumer."
"Halfway through the back-to-school season retailers are seeing positive signs that consumers are spending," NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay said. "However, sustained retail growth hinges on Congress' and the administration's ability to make smart decisions about the economy and Americans' confidence in our long-term recovery."
NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz added, "Despite high unemployment, and political and fiscal uncertainty, consumers are spending again, albeit cautiously. Retail sales continue to remain resilient in the face of bleak international news, with retailers on track with sustained sales growth year-over-year and year to date. Retail sales will continue to see modest growth in the fall and winter."