FINANCE

Retail sales slip in April as consumers rein in spending

BY Marianne Wilson

U.S. retail sales unexpectedly fell in April as consumers cut back spending on clothes, appliances and other goods, both in stores and online.

Retail sales were down 0.2% in April from March, according to the National Retail Federation, whose numbers exclude automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants. Overall sales in April were also down 0.2%.

Analysts noted that retail sales have been volatile this year, rising in January, down in February, up again in March and now down in April.

“Despite there being a lot of volatility in the data from month to month, the long-term comparisons look good and the three-month average in particular is getting stronger,” said NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz. “We think we remain on track to meet our projections. Slower tax refunds and weather may have been key factors impacting April’s numbers, but the fundamentals remain positive, particularly in long-term comparisons.” [NRF’s preliminary forecast calls for retail sales to increase 3.8% to 4.4% in 2019.]

Kleinhenz said a number of factors may have affected April sales, including flooding in the middle of the country and blizzards and extreme temperature swings elsewhere, along with a soft housing market that impacted sales of furniture, appliances and building materials. The shift of Easter and Passover from March to April this year gave less of a month-over-month bump in spending than expected, he added.

As of April, the three-month moving average was up 2.9% over the same period a year ago, compared with 2.6% in March. April’s results build on gains of 1.1% month-over-month and 1% year-over-year seen in March.

Specifics from month-over-month retail sales for April include:
• Online and other non-store sales declined down 0.2%;
• Health and personal care stores declined down 0.2%;
• Grocery and beverage stores rose 0.2%;
• General merchandise stores rose 0.2%;
• Clothing and clothing accessory stores were down 0.2;
• Building materials and garden supply were down 1.9%;
• Furniture and home furnishings stores were down 0.7% year-over-year and unchanged month-over-month seasonally adjusted;
• Electronics and appliance stores were down 3.4% year-over-year and down 1.3% month-over-month seasonally adjusted; and
• Sporting goods stores were down 4.7% year-over-year but up 0.2% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.

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