Retail Sales Up in April but Growth is Slower Than March

By Mark Lieberman

Managing Director and Senior Economist

Highlights:

  • April retail sales – measured by prices – ROSE $1.48 billion or 0.3 percent from March;
  • Gasoline station sales were UP 0.8 percent – matching the increase in furniture store sales – as gasoline prices rose 6.4 percent;
  • The increase in gasoline sales station sales accounted for one-fifth of the increase in all sales although gasoline station sales represent only 8.5 percent of all retail activity;
  • The increase in retail activity came in the same month in which the Consumer Price Index rose 0.2 percent which means consumer activity increased faster than inflation;
  • Sales at clothing retailers increased 1.4 percent, the fastest growth of any retail category;
  • Sales at health and personal care stores, restaurants, electronics and sporting goods stores dipped in April.

Trends:

  • Year-year total sales ROSE 4.8 percent in April, matching the year-year increase in March;
  • The increase in retail activity came in the same month in which the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported real average weekly earnings in April were flat to March;
  • BLS also reported the number of retail jobs in April rose just 1,800 4,400 or .01 percent from March.
  • In the three months since the revised tax code boosted take home pay, retail sales have increased $5.4 billion; in the same three months in 2017, retail sales grew $518 million

Data source: Census Bureau

Image result for retail sales

Retail sales – at least based on prices – continued to reflect the higher take home pay resulting from the tax cuts enacted last December. Sales rose a solid 0,3 percent on the heels of a 0.8 percent increase (revised from the initially reported 0,6 percent gain) in March.

The increase came even as the number of retail jobs barely budged in April. Indeed, the number of retail jobs at clothing stores declined in April even though sales at clothing outlets shot up at the fastest pace since February 2017. The anomaly runs counter to the general hiring mantra of adding employees to increase sales, calculated as sales per employee.

Sales declined 0.4 percent at health and personal stores in April as the number jobs at those stores fell 1,700 or 0.2 percent.

The number of jobs at furniture stores contracted 0.2 percent while sales at those stores increased 0.8 percent.

Online sale rose 0.6 percent in April and remained at about 11 percent of all retail activity.

Hear Mark Lieberman on the Morning Briefing on P.O.T.U.S. radio @sxmpotus, Sirius-XM 124, every Friday at 6:20 am Eastern Time. You can follow him on Twitter at @foxeconomics.  

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