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US retail sales rebounded in April after sluggish winter

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Associated Press

WASHINGTON

Americans stepped up their spending at auto dealers, hardware stores and e-commerce outlets as retail sales rebounded from two sluggish months.

The Commerce Department said Friday that retail sales increased 0.4 percent in April from March. Sales ticked up just 0.1 percent in March and fell in February.

The increase suggests that consumers are poised to spur faster growth in the April-June quarter after the economy barely expanded in the first three months of the year. Consumer spending – which also includes spending on services such as utilities – rose at its slowest pace in more than seven years in the first quarter.

The rise also indicates that the struggles of large retail chains, such as Macy’s and JC Penney’s, reflect changes in consumer buying patterns more than broader economic weakness.

Sales in a category that includes department stores, as well as general retailers such as Wal-Mart, fell 0.5 percent in April, the government said. Yet a category that includes online retailers reported sales growth of 1.4 percent, the strongest of any group.

“The retail sales data provide further reason to expect that overall consumption growth will be much stronger in the second quarter,” said Andrew Hunter, U.S. economist at Capital Economics.

The sales gains were widespread, as Americans spent more at electronics and appliance stores, health care retailers and sporting-goods outlets. Sales fell at grocery stores and clothing merchants.

Americans ate out more, boosting spending at restaurants and bars 0.4 percent. Auto sales rose 0.7 percent after falling in March.

Consumer confidence has soared since the presidential election, but spending hasn’t increased as much as the jump in optimism would suggest.