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United States Retail May 2020

United States: Retail sales jump at the fastest pace on record in May

Nominal retail sales surged at the fastest rate in the series’ near three-decade history in May, jumping 17.7% in month-on-month seasonally-adjusted terms. The result contrasted April’s 14.7% plummet and was significantly better than market expectations of an 8.0% increase. Retail sales excluding cars, gasoline, building materials and food services—also known as core retail sales—soared 12.4% in May, rebounding from April’s 15.2% plunge.

The historic rise in retail sales came as large sections of the country eased lockdown restrictions. Retail sales of clothing and accessories skyrocketed 188.0% month-on-month in May (April: -75.3% month-on-month). Moreover, retail sales of food services increased notably as restaurants came back online in May, while purchases of sporting goods, furniture, electronics and motor vehicles all surged in May after contracting sharply in April.

In annual terms, retail sales declined 6.1% in May, considerably softer than April’s 19.9% dive. Meanwhile, the annual average variation in retail sales growth fell to 0.4% from 1.2%. Lastly, for the first five months of the year retail sales were down 4.7% compared to the same period last year, but were down 10.5% in March–May—the start of the pandemic—compared to the same three months last year.

Commenting on May’s reading, Sri Thanabalasingam, an economist at TD economics, noted:

“One-time checks and expanded unemployment insurance, provided by the CARES Act, has more than offset losses in employment income for most households. This helped support the rebound in retail sales. With expanded unemployment payments set to expire in July, households could see a significant drop in income if unemployed members have not returned to work. The turnaround in the labor market in May was promising, but if it stalls, Congress should stand ready to provide additional support to American households.”

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