In April, US retail sales grew by 0.3% month over month on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to the US Census Bureau. The increase was in line with economists’ expectations. Excluding sales from auto dealers, gas stations, building materials and food services, retail sales edged up 0.4%. Data for March were revised upward to show sales increasing by 0.8% rather than the previously reported 0.6%.
Nine of the 13 major retail categories posted positive sales results in April compared with March. Consumer spending rose by 1.4% at clothing and accessories retailers, by 0.8% at furniture retailers and by 0.8% at gas stations. The health and personal care and restaurants and bars categories represented the two biggest declines: spending at health and personal care stores fell by 0.4% from March and spending at restaurants and bars fell by 0.3%.
On a year-over-year basis in April, total retail sales increased by 4.7% and retail sales excluding autos increased by 4.8%. Gas stations led growth, with sales up 11.7% from the year-ago period, while nonstore retailers’ sales were up 9.6% year over year. Gas station sales were likely driven by the recent pickup in gas prices; according to the US Energy Information Administration, the national average price for a gallon of regular gas in April was $2.76, up about 17 cents from March and the highest average seen since mid-2015.
Spending was sluggish at the start of 2018, but April marked the second consecutive month of growth. More broadly, consumer spending has been lifted by a falling unemployment rate, which in April was a historically low 3.9%. Measures of consumer confidence have remained high in recent months, which economists attribute to the recent tax cuts, a healthy labor market and broader economic growth.