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May 17, 2022, 9:57 a.m. EDT

U.S. retail sales climb in April in a sign economy still has vigor

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Jeffry Bartash

The numbers: Sales at U.S. retailers rose a solid 0.9% in April and signaled the economy still has plenty of vigor. Auto dealers led the way but most major retail categories posted gains.

Economists polled by The Wall Street Journal had forecast a 1% advance.

The increase in sales in March, meanwhile, was raised to 1.4% from an original 0.7%, the government reported Tuesday .

Retail sales are a big part of consumer spending and offer clues on the strength of the U.S. economy.

After adjusting for a 0.3% increase in inflation in April , retail sales rose roughly 0.6% last month. Sales also rose faster than inflation in March.

Big picture : High inflation is a big worry. Rising prices could force consumers to forego some purchases and stop buying quite as much, potentially slowing the economy. Consumer spending accounts for about 70% of U.S. economic activity.

The Federal Reserve, for its part, is moving to jack up interest rate to try to tame inflation. That could also slow the economy.

For now Americans are still spending enough to keep the economy growing, but the future is looking more uncertain.

U.S. retail sales in April +0.9%
Autos & parts +2.2%
Home furnishings +0.7%
Electronics & appliances +1%
Home & garden centers -0.1%
Food & drinks -0.2%
Health & personal care +0.7%
Gasoline stations -2.7%
Clothing +0.8%
Sporting goods, books & hobbies -0.5%
General stores +0.2%
Miscellaneous stores +4%
Internet retailers +2.1%
Bars & restaurants +2%

Key details: Auto sales jumped 2.2% last month and reversed a sharp drop in March. Sales have been up and down for the past year owing to ongoing computer chip shortages that have hampered production.

On the flip side, sales at gas stations slid 2.7% in April after prices at the pump fell. They had surged in March following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

If gas stations and auto dealers are set aside, retail sales rose 1% last month. That gives a better idea of retail-sales trends.

Sales at most other retailers rose in April.

One category that economists watch closely is bars and restaurants, the only service-providing business tracked by the retail report. Sales tend to rise when the economy is strong and Americans feel confident.

Restaurant sales climbed a healthy 2% last month. Economists predict Americans will shift spending more toward services and away from goods as they leave their homes more to entertain themselves or travel.

Taken together, higher retail sales in April and March are a good sign for the economy.

Looking ahead: “Never bet against the U.S. consumer has always been a good adage to bear in mind throughout my 20-plus years in the markets,” said chief economist Paul Ashworth of Capital Economics.

“Given this show of strength from consumers, speculation that the U.S. economy is in danger of an imminent plunge into recession look badly misplaced.”

Market reaction: The Dow Jones Industrial Average /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA +1.05% and S&P 500 /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX +1.06% rose sharply in Tuesday trades.

/zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime
US : Dow Jones Global
31,097.26
+321.83 +1.05%
Volume: 313.35M
July 1, 2022 5:45p
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/zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime
US : S&P US
3,825.33
+39.95 +1.06%
Volume: 2.20B
July 1, 2022 5:45p
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