Sales at retailers fell less than forecast in May, showing American consumers were overcoming elevated gasoline costs.
The 0.2 percent decrease followed a 0.3 percent April gain that was smaller than previously estimated, Commerce Department figures showed today in Washington. The median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News was a drop of 0.5 percent. Excluding autos, purchases climbed 0.3 percent.
Ebbing energy costs and a rebound in autos following the disaster in Japan mean household purchases, which account for about 70 percent of the economy, may improve in the next six months. Even so, chains including Limited Brands Inc. missed analysts’ estimates for May as fuel prices climbed to the highest level in almost three years and unemployment topped 9 percent.
“Consumers are cautious, but they are not panicking,” said Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics Inc. in West Chester, Pennsylvania, who accurately forecast the gain excluding autos. Americans are “taking higher food and energy prices relatively well. We should see consumer spending pick up in the second half.”
Wholesale costs rose last month, led by higher prices for fuel and the fastest rise in 30 years for apparel and textiles, a report from the Labor Department showed today. The 0.2 percent increase in the producer-price index followed a 0.8 percent increase in April.
Stock-index futures added to earlier gains after the reports. The contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index maturing in September rose 1.1 percent to 1,279.5 at 8:45 a.m. in New York. Treasury securities fell, pushing the yield on the benchmark 10-year note up to 3.05 percent from 2.99 percent late yesterday.
Retail sales were projected to drop after a 0.5 percent gain previously reported for April, according to the Bloomberg survey. Economists’ estimates ranged from little change to declines of 1.4 percent.
Six of 13 major categories showed declines last month, led by a 2.9 percent drop at auto dealers, the biggest decrease since February 2010.
That is consistent with industry data. Cars and light trucks sold at an 11.8 million annual rate in May, the slowest in eight months and down from a 13.1 million pace for April, according to researcher Autodata Corp. General Motors Co. (GM) and Ford Motor Co. (F) reported a decline in U.S. deliveries from the same month last year.
Some of the drop in demand last month reflected a shortage of Japanese-made vehicles after the earthquake and tsunami disrupted supplies. With inventories running low, companies offered smaller discounts, which also deterred buyers.
“Our biggest concern of course is that the economy has slowed a little bit from where we thought it would be,” Ford Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally said in a June 7 Bloomberg Television interview. “Having said that, most of the economists believe that it’s going to start picking up in the second half with everything that’s been put in place, both monetarily and fiscally.”
Excluding autos, gasoline and building materials, which are the figures used to calculate gross domestic product, sales climbed 0.2 percent, the smallest gain this year, after a 0.3 percent increase the prior month.
Filling station sales climbed 0.3 percent.
The retail sales figures, which aren’t adjusted for inflation, got a boost from receipts at service stations that reflected higher gasoline costs. Regular fuel averaged $3.90 a gallon in May, up 10 cents from April. The price reached $3.99 on May 4, the highest since July 2008, according to AAA, the nation’s biggest auto group. The cost was down to $3.70 as of June 12.
Spending increased 1.2 percent at non-store retailers, which include online merchants. Restaurant receipts climbed 0.6 percent.
Payrolls grew by 54,000 in May, the smallest gain in eight months, and the jobless rate climbed to 9.1 percent, Labor Department figures showed on June 3. Employment at retailers fell for the second time in three months.
Less hiring was probably among the reasons at least 15 retailers fell short of estimates for sales at stores open at least a year. Limited, the Columbus, Ohio-based operator of Victoria’s Secret, reported a 6 percent gain in May same-store sales from the same month in 2010, missing the 7.4 percent average of analysts’ projections compiled by Retail Metrics.
Consumer spending will grow an average 2.95 percent annual rate in the second half of 2011 after rising 2.1 percent this quarter, according to the median forecast of economists polled by Bloomberg News from June 1 to June 8.
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