Retail Sales Rise Ahead of Tariffs

Jon C. Ogg

May’s reading on retail sales did manage to post a 0.5% seasonally adjusted gain. That’s the good news. The bad news is that this was under the consensus target of 0.6% published in the Wall Street Journal. The U.S. Department of Commerce also reported that retail sales excluding autos and gasoline were also up 0.5% during May. This translated to a 3.1% gain year over year.

Retail sales are always closely watched, but in 2019 it seems many key retailers have reported troubling sales trends. Also worth noting is that close to 70% of gross domestic product is tied to consumer spending activities.

The figure for April’s retail sales was revised to a gain of 0.3% from the preliminary −0.2%.

Nonstore retailers, including Amazon and other online and catalog merchants, were up 11.4% from May 2018. Retail sales involving sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument and book stores were down 4.2% from a year ago.

While much of the talk has been around tariffs and China, the reality is that retail sales of products getting hit with tariffs will not yet be showing up in the economic reports. The first full month of tariffs on goods will be June, but even then it takes weeks to months for goods coming into the country to feel the retail sales bite by the time goods get to the consumer.