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May retail sales show flat growth, say Commerce and NRF

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
June 14, 2011

As mounting evidence indicates that slow economic growth is prevalent, retail sales numbers released today were essentially flat in May compared to April and were up on an annual basis, according to data from the United States Department of Commerce and the National Retail Federation (NRF).

May retail sales, which include non-general merchandise like automobiles, gasoline, and restaurants, were $387.1 billion for a 0.2 percent decrease from April and a 7.7 percent increase compared to May 2010, according to Commerce data. Commerce said that total retail sales from March through May were up 7.5 percent annually.

May also represents the 11th straight month of increased annual retail sales.

The NRF reported that May retail sales, which exclude automobiles, gas stations, and restaurants, were up 0.1 percent from April on a seasonally-adjusted basis and up 5.0 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

“After a string of disappointing government reports relating to first quarter growth and employment, May’s retail report supports the idea of the economy hitting a soft patch,” said NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz in a statement. “Though consumers are spending cautiously, we are not seeing them cut out new purchases completely, signaling there is a distinct appetite to spend if economic conditions let them.”

In tune with flat retail sales is an ostensible stalling in freight growth to a certain degree as evidenced by recent reports from the American Trucking Associations and Cass Information Systems. Recent reports from both concerns show that freight growth is in a holding pattern brought on my high fuel prices, a crippled housing market, and lack of meaningful job growth, among other factors.

And with a recent lull in fuel prices there still remains a distinct possibility that retail sales will remain at current levels in the coming months. Freight volumes, specifically on the trucking side, are displaying volumes that are still well below pre-recession levels. But shippers and carriers maintain that retail-related tonnage will continue to display growth in the coming months but remain largely unsure to what degree.

A less-than-truckload executive said in an interview that factors like sluggish consumer confidence levels, sluggish GDP projections and high unemployment are making the case for flat retail growth overall.

“Business levels for retail sales are softer than originally anticipated,” he said. “Looking at the second half of the year there is a bit of concern that the economy will not be as robust as initially thought.”

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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