Core retail sales fell 0.2% in April and even "non-store" retail sales (mostly e-commerce) fell 0.2% in the period, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Both measures saw year-over-year gains, however, with core sales rising 2.8% and e-commerce 9%, according to the report.
The National Retail Federation, using the government's numbers, found that April sales, excluding auto dealers, gas stations and restaurants, dropped 0.2% seasonally adjusted from March, but rose 5.2% unadjusted year over year, according to a press release emailed to Retail Dive.
The reported included "pockets of strength," Wells Fargo analysts noted in comments emailed to Retail Dive, including e-commerce, which had the best year-over-year bump, and gas sales, which rose 4.9%. But other categories slumped, with even home improvement growth of 1.2% a slow-down from the previous month and year. Electronics sales fell 1.3% from March, apparel and accessories sales fell 0.2% and furniture sales were flat, the government said. But department store sales rose 0.7% month over month, and sporting goods, hobby and bookstores rose 0.2% in that time.
As Wells Fargo analysts noted, gasoline sales have gained for three straight months thanks to rising fuel prices. When it comes to retail sales, that's a negative, however, because consumers will have less money in their pockets to spend on non-fuel items.
April's performance in a core control group followed by analysts were flat according to a note from Instinet Nomura emailed to Retail Dive. That missed consensus analyst expectations for a 0.3% rise and Instinet expectations for a 0.2% rise, and raises the specter of weakening consumer spending.
"[T]he soft reading in April aligns with weak retail sector sentiment in recent months and suggests ongoing downside risk for personal consumption growth in Q2," Instinet analysts wrote. "The details of the control group retail sales data were mixed. Some major components such as sales at electronics, clothing, personal care stores and non-store retailers showed declines in sales while others such as general merchandise and sporting goods stores showed gains."
But NRF Chief Economic Jack Kleinhenz in a statement emailed to Retail Dive on Wednesday maintained that "the fundamentals remain positive, particularly in long-term comparisons," and said that slow tax refunds, unfavorable weather and the shift of Easter and Passover all helped dragged down April's numbers.
"Despite there being a lot of volatility in the data from month to month, the long-term comparisons look good and the three-month average in particular is getting stronger," he said. "We think we remain on track to meet our projections."
That preliminary forecast from NRF is for a 2019 retail sales rise of between 3.8% and 4.4% to more than $3.8 trillion, a projection that is "subject to revision as more data is released in the coming months," according to the group's release.