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Census Bureau: Core retail sales inch down in April; overall sales flat

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Nonstore retailers, which includes online sales, led the declines, fell 1.2% in April from March.

Retail sales lost some momentum in April as consumers curbed their spending amid higher interest rates and other concerns.

Core retail sales (excludes automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants) in April were down 0.2% from March, but up 3.9% year-over-year, according to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau. Core sales are up 3.8% year-over-year for the first four months of the year, in line with NRF’s forecast for 2024 retail sales to grow between 2.5% and 3.5% over 2023.

The Census Bureau released the April sales reading on the same day the Consumer Price showed that U.S. consumer price increases cooled slightly in April after three elevated readings.

Non-store retailers, which includes online sales, led the declines, falling 1.2% in April from March. Sales at home furnishings stores fell 0.5%, while sales at clothing and accessories stores rose 1.6%.

Overall retail sales in April were flat with March and up 3% unadjusted year-over-year, the Census Bureau reported. That compared with increases of 0.6% month-over-month and 3.8% year-over-year in March. The year-over-year increase was due, in part, to recent downward revisions to data from last year.

“The softer pace of spending is due in part to consumers being selective and prioritizing retail purchases. Yet, consumers remain willing to spend, keeping the economy afloat despite fatigue from stubbornly high inflation for services and higher interest rates,” stated NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz.

Last week, the CNBC/Retail Monitor, powered by Affinity Solutions, reported that core April retail sales were up 0.4% from March and almost unchanged — down just 0.05% — year-over-year. That compared with increases of 0.23% month-over-month and 2.92% year-over-year in March. (Unlike survey-based numbers collected by the Census Bureau, the Retail Monitor uses actual, anonymized credit and debit card purchase data compiled by Affinity Solutions and does not need to be revised monthly or annually.)

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