Consumers Remain Shy, Retail Sales Down Again
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
U.S. Retail sales fell for a second straight month in April, raising doubts about whether consumers were regaining their desire to shop. A rebound in consumer demand is a necessary ingredient for ending the recession.
The Commerce Department said Wednesday that retail sales fell 0.4 percent last month, much worse than the flat reading economists expected. The April weakness followed a 1.3 percent drop in March that was worse than first estimated.
Retail sales had posted gains in January and February after falling for six straight months, raising hopes that the all-important consumer sector of the economy might be stabilizing. But the setbacks in March and April could darken some forecasts because consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of economic activity.
The hope had been that consumers were starting to feel better about spending, helped by the start of tax breaks included in the $787 billion stimulus bill. Households had spent the fall hunkered down in the face of thousands of job layoffs and the worst financial crisis since the 1930s.
The worse-than-expected April retail sales reading came despite a 0.2 percent increase in auto sales, which fell 2 percent in March. Excluding autos, the drop in retail sales would have been 0.5 percent, much worse than the 0.2 percent gain economists expected.
Sales outside of autos showed widespread weakness. Demand at department stores and general merchandise stores fell 0.1 percent and sales at specialty clothing stores dropped 0.5 percent.
Sales also fell at furniture stores, electronic and appliance stores, food and beverage stores and gasoline stations.
The performance at department stores and specialty clothing stores came as a surprise since the nation's big chain stores had reported better-than-expected results for April. Same-store sales rose 0.7 percent last month compared with April 2008. It was the first overall increase in six months, according to the tally by Goldman Sachs and the International Council of Shopping Centers.
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