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Retail sales show steady performance in May

Retail sales stayed the course in May.

Retail sales continued following generally moderate growth patterns in May 2024.

Overall retail sales in May 2024 were up 0.1% seasonally adjusted month-over-month and up 2.3% unadjusted year-over-year, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau. That compared with a decrease of 0.2% month-over-month and an increase of 2.7% year-over-year in April 2024.

May’s core retail sales as defined by the National Retail Federation (NRF)  — based on the Census data but excluding automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants — were up 0.3% seasonally adjusted month-over-month and up 2.9% unadjusted year-over-year.

Core retail sales growth for the month roughly correlated with the Census Bureau’s recently released Consumer Price Index for May, which showed prices showing no year-over-year change on an adjusted basis and rising 3.3% seasonally adjusted.

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Core retail sales were also up 3.5% year-over-year for the first five 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 recent CNBC/NRF Retail Monitor, powered by Affinity Solutions, reported that core retail sales were up 1.2% seasonally adjusted month over month in May and up 2.88% year-over-year. That compared with an increase of 0.4% month-over-month and a decrease of 0.05% year-over-year in April. 

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.

"May’s retail sales give us a snapshot of a reasonably healthy consumer even though spending growth is fluctuating somewhat," said NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz. "These numbers indicate that the economy continues to expand at a solid pace. Job gains have remained strong, generally supporting consumers’ ability and willingness to spend. Inflation pressure has fallen, especially for retail goods, but higher prices for services continue to weigh on the minds of households."

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