WASHINGTON — Falling gasoline prices and improving consumer confidence contributed to an uptick in retail sales in April, as specialty stores, discounters and department stores all posted gains, the Commerce Department’s monthly report released on Monday showed.
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Sales at apparel and accessories stores showed the strongest gain, rising a seasonally adjusted 1.2 percent to $20.6 billion last month. Sales at department stores increased 0.3 percent to $14.7 billion. General merchandise store sales, which includes department stores, gained 1 percent to $52.2 billion.
“I think the story is that consumers are showing some resilience, but the thing that is clear to me is that growth has really slowed,” said Kevin Regan, senior managing director at FTI Consulting. “I think that people are looking for deals and continuing to shop.”
Regan said the apparel and accessories store sector continued to be positive, as evidenced by what he said were “signs of strength” by Gap Inc.
“We see budget-minded consumers continuing to shop for value,” Regan said.
He added that there is a real question about the slowdown in brick-and-mortar sales at department stores, which were down 3.6 percent year-over-year.
Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist at the National Retail Federation, said, “Today’s retail sales data is encouraging news. However positive, retail sales and consumer spending in April may not necessarily translate into a stronger or healthier second quarter.”
In the overall economy, retail sales rose 0.1 percent in April to $419 billion, after falling in March.
“After a poor showing in March, retail sales performed relatively well in April,” said Chris G. Christopher, director of consumer economics at IHS Global Insight. “Consumers started purchasing more discretionary items in April as pump prices started to fall. Most retail categories had a pretty good April, with the exception of gasoline stations, grocery and drugstores.”
“Consumers are taking advantage of falling pump prices, a relatively better employment market, modest consumer goods price increases, a strong stock market and a housing market that seems to be gaining traction,” Christopher added. “When all is said and done, this is not a consumer-led recovery by any means. Many households face considerable headwinds and are not likely to throw caution to the wind anytime soon.”