Retail sales rise modestly in May

Retail sales in May fell short of estimates, but still pointed to an economy making slow progress.

Sales rose a modest 0.3 percent last month, according to the Commerce Department. That was only half of the 0.6 percent gain that economists projected.

Sales would have advanced only 0.1 percent without a strong showing from the auto sector. Excluding autos and gasoline, overall sales would have been flat.

But revised figures for April showed far more consumer spending than previously estimated. The updated 0.5 percent figure far surpassed the government’s initial 0.1 percent estimate, suggesting that Americans opened their wallets in April as soon as the brutal winter weather had cleared.

That prompted enthusiasm from some economists, who say growth prospects are better than generally perceived.

“Consumers have not bought this much from your friendly neighborhood retailer or from over the internet up in the clouds since early 2012,” wrote Chris Rupkey, an economist at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, in a report to clients. “Consumers may have dialed it back a touch in May, but overall spending for the second quarter is through the roof.”

Separate government data showed jobless claims rising slightly last week, up 4,000 to 317,000. That was less, however, than the 324,000 weekly average this year.

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