May a mixed bag for retail sales

U.S. Census Bureau reports slight drop for month

WASHINGTON — Retail spending for the month of May experienced a slight drop of 0.2% to $387.1 billion, though the advanced estimates noted that May sales were 7.7% higher than the year-ago period, the U.S. Census Bureau said Tuesday.

The government agency also reported that total sales for the March through May period were up 7.5% from the same period a year ago.

Across retail sectors, grocery stores during May continued on an upward trend, rising 1.7% to nearly $46.7 million, up from $45.9 million in April. Health and personal care stores gained traction after seeing a decline last month of 0.3% — the U.S. Census Bureau said May sales rose 1.3% to $22.8 million.

Although advanced estimates for pharmacies and drug stores are not included in the report, the U.S. Census Bureau reported a decline in sales to about $18.6 million in April, down from nearly $19.9 million in March.

Commenting on the sales results, the National Retail Federation said that the industry isn't immune to other economic factors, such as employment rates and housing, and that lackluster sales do not come as a surprise to retailers.

"After a string of disappointing government reports relating to economic activity and employment, May’s retail report supports the idea of the economy hitting a soft patch," NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said. "Though consumers are spending cautiously, we are not seeing them cut out new purchases completely, signaling there is a distinct appetite to spend if economic conditions let them."

NRF added that it expected sales to pick up again in time for the back-to-school season, which, according to a PriceGrabber survey, may start later this year.

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