Gain in U.S. Retail Sales Suggests Slowdown Was Temporary

A pickup in U.S. retail sales last month adds to signs of steady consumer spending that will help propel the economy after a first-quarter slowdown, Commerce Department data showed Friday.


  • Purchases rose 0.4% (forecast was 0.6% rise) after a 0.1% increase the prior month (revised from 0.2% decline)
  • Retail control-group sales, which are used to calculate GDP and exclude the categories of food services, auto dealers, building materials outlets and gasoline stations, rose 0.2% after a 0.7% March gain that was the biggest since April 2016
  • Sales rose in nine of 13 major retail categories

Key Takeaways

Including the revision, the retail figures were close to estimates and show little more than steady demand at the start of the second quarter. The caveat was the smaller-than-expected 0.2 percent advance in so-called core sales.

While the Commerce Department data capture only a small part of consumer purchases, household spending on services probably has kept up a solid pace amid more seasonal temperatures. The figures also might be a sign that delayed tax refunds in 2017 are beginning to make their way to Americans’ wallets, providing additional support in the months ahead.

The Commerce data don’t reflect changes in prices, and consumers weathered a spike in gasoline prices in April. Fuel costs have since declined.

Economist Views

“The backdrop is generally favorable for consumers, with an unemployment rate of 4.4 percent, gradually improving wage pressures, low borrowing costs and high household wealth,” Michelle Meyer and other Bank of America economists wrote in a note before the data.

Other Details

  • Purchases at auto dealers and service stations increased 0.7 percent; industry data showed sales of cars and light trucks rose in April to a 16.8 million pace after March’s 16.5 million rate was the slowest in more than two years
  • Retail sales excluding autos rose 0.3 percent for a second month
  • Sales at merchants of electronics and appliances rose 1.3 percent in April after a 2.2 percent jump
  • Purchases also improved at Internet retailers, restaurants, sporting goods stores and building materials outlets


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Dean Popplewell

Dean Popplewell

Vice-President of Market Analysis at MarketPulse
Dean Popplewell has nearly two decades of experience trading currencies and fixed income instruments. He has a deep understanding of market fundamentals and the impact of global events on capital markets. He is respected among professional traders for his skilled analysis and career history as global head of trading for firms such as Scotia Capital and BMO Nesbitt Burns. Since joining OANDA in 2006, Dean has played an instrumental role in driving awareness of the forex market as an emerging asset class for retail investors, as well as providing expert counsel to a number of internal teams on how to best serve clients and industry stakeholders.
Dean Popplewell