US consumers are spending again as retail sales number shows consumers bought automobiles and a range of other goods in May, suggesting the economy is gaining steam despite slowdown in the labor market.
Retail sales rose 0.5 percent in May, follow a 1.3 percent jump in April, Commerce Department figures showed on Tuesday in Washington.
“This is a very strong spring quarter for consumer spending,” said Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services Group Inc. in Pittsburgh and the best forecaster of retail sales over the past two years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. It adds to evidence that the economy “is bouncing back pretty solidly.”
Steady gains in consumption will help the economy accelerate from a soft patch at the start of the year, bolstering forecasts by Federal Reserve officials that the slowdown would prove temporary. A pickup in wages generated by continued increases in employment will help ensure households remain a mainstay of the economic expansion.
Nine of 13 major categories showed increases in demand in May from the prior month, led by a 1.3 percent jump at non-store retailers, which include online merchants. Sales also rose 1.3 percent at sporting goods stores and 0.8 percent at clothing stores, marking the biggest advance since November.
Automobile dealers’ sales increased 0.5 percent in May after a jumping 3.1 percent the prior month. That’s roughly in line with figures earlier this month that showed U.S. vehicle sales were little changed in May from the month before.
Receipts at gasoline stations climbed 2.1 percent last month, the retail sales report showed. The Commerce Department’s retail sales data aren’t adjusted for prices, so higher fuel costs can boost filling-station receipts. The cost of an average gallon of regular gasoline was $2.38 as of June 10, the highest level since September.
The figures used to calculate gross domestic product, which exclude categories such as food services, auto dealers, home-improvement stores and service stations, increased 0.4 percent in May after rising 1 percent the month before, which was the biggest advance in two years.
Economists are counting on households to lead a rebound in the U.S. after first quarter growth was hamstrung by slowing consumption growth and a slump in business investment. Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg from June 3 to June 8 saw growth climbing at a 2.5 percent annualized rate in the second quarter after a 0.8 percent pace in the first three months of the year.
Fed policy makers are keeping tabs on growth as they determine when their next interest-rate increase will be appropriate. May’s weak payrolls report led many economists to conclude that a hike at the Fed’s June meeting, taking place Tuesday and Wednesday, would be unlikely.
Another report Tuesday showed inflation was starting to stir. The costs of goods imported into the U.S. climbed 1.4 percent in May, the biggest gain in four years, according to data from the Labor Department.
While the advance was paced by a 16.2 percent surge in fuel costs that was the largest since 1999, prices for other items were also starting to strengthen. Non-fuel imports cost 0.3 percent more last month, the biggest gain since March 2014.