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May retail sales are flattish sequentially and up annually

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
June 12, 2014

Data released today by the United States Department of Commerce and the National Retail Federation (NRF) pointed to flattish sequential gains for May retail sales, with slight annual improvement.

Commerce reported that May retail sales at $437.6 billion were up 0.3 percent over April and up 4.3 percent compared to May 2013, and total retail sales from March through May are up 4.3 percent annually.

The NRF said that May retail sales, which exclude automobiles, gas stations, and restaurants, were flat on a seasonally-adjusted and sequential basis for the second straight month in May, and saw a 3.0 percent unadjusted annual increase.

“On the surface, May retail sales were disappointing and weaker than expected; however April’s upward revisions still indicate positive growth for the remainder of the year,” wrote NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz in a blog posting. “Even though American consumers continue to be selective and price-sensitive, May sales were strong in many retail categories and sectors including building supply stores, furniture stores and nonstore retailers. The economic fundamentals – consumer confidence, employment and income – remain strong.”

As previously reported, with retail sales growth still relatively modest, there still remains a mixed bag of signals and headwinds on the economic front, including a slightly declining unemployment rate, improving consumer confidence data, as well as encouraging automotive sales and housing data.

And these things continue to occur, though, against the backdrop of sluggish GDP growth and general uncertainty regarding the economy.

Supply chain stakeholders describe the current market environment as it relates to retail supply chains as steady for the most part. With the impact of the harsh winter weather largely in the background, shippers are rebuilding inventories in time for the second half of the year in advance of peak season.

Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett wrote in Port Tracker report published by his firm and the NRF that with the winter weather now in the past, coupled with inventories coming down as consumers venture out and the PMA and ILWU West Coast ports labor negotiations, paints a picture of a strong recovery in the second quarter (coming off of the recent 1.0 percent GDP estimate) but without a major shift in upward growth as the trend remains below the historical average.

“The real question now is how long can the economic expansion continue?” wrote Hackett. “Our year-on-year quarterly growth in the Global Port Tracker report shows that we have over three years of expansion with only one negative quarter in 2013, but much of the growth has been relatively slow. Consumers remain skeptical and it remains unclear whether the economy will shift up in 2015, but growth is growth and the results are apparent in the improving unemployment figures.”

Stifel Nicolaus analyst John Larkin said at April’s NASSTRAC conference that it is reasonable to expect retail sales to be somewhat tempered as a large amount of U.S. consumers are still recovering from the Great Recession. He supported that thesis by explaining that housing is at about 40-to-45 percent of the peak levels from January 2006, coupled with a year-to-date decline in automobile sales although production is up.

About the Author

Jeff Berman headshot
Jeff Berman
Group News Editor

Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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