Retail trade sales rose 0.8% in May from April, and 6% percent from May last year, according to the latest monthly report from the U.S. Commerce Department’s census bureau. Excluding automobiles, gasoline stations and restaurants, May retail sales rose 0.7% from April and 5.6% from May last year, according to the National Retail Federation.
Most categories are benefiting from the healthy economy. Monthly furniture and home goods sales dropped 2.4% (rising 3.5% year over year) and sporting goods, hobby and bookstore sales dropped 1.1%. (declining 0.7% year over year). But electronics sales rose 0.2% (1.9% year over year), department store sales rose 1.5% (2.1% year over year) and apparel and accessories sales rose 1.3% (5.9%) year over year, the government said.
E-commerce sales rose 0.1% from April and 9.1% year over year, according to the federal report.
The U.S. economy, underpinned by strong growth and employment, is operating on all cylinders, and that is boosting retail sales and is evident in most earnings reports of late. Increases in household budgets from tax changes and good credit availability are also helping, according to NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz.
"The economy is looking strong and households have a solid financial foundation on which to base their spending," he said in a statement this week. "We have seen ongoing momentum over the last several months and believe sales growth should remain healthy and consistent with our 2018 outlook."
The three-month moving average rose 4.6% over the same period a year ago, topping NRF’s forecast earlier this year that retail sales this year will grow between 3.8% and 4.4%, the organization said.
But while the near-term outlook remains strong, tax reform and the administration's new tack on trade could undermine all that, according to the International Monetary Fund’s latest report card on the U.S. economy. Tax cuts and spending policies mean the federal deficit will exceed 4.5% of GDP by 2019, and tariffs being imposed and proposed "are likely to be damaging to a range of countries, and to U.S. multinational companies, that are reliant on these supply chains," the IMF said.
That includes retailers, and Kleinhenz agrees that there’s trouble on the horizon. “[I]nflation and rising oil prices are complicating the picture,” he said. “And new tariffs or a trade war would certainly be negatives that would increase prices and reduce both consumer purchasing power and consumer confidence."