U.S. Retail Sales Surge a Record 17.7% in May Compared to April

Year over year, however, May retail sales were down 6.1%

a busy store
The previous record for month-over-month retail increase was set in October 2001. Pixabay
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Key insight:

U.S. retail and food service sales for May rose 17.7% to almost $486 billion versus April’s nearly $413 billion, according to data released today by the U.S. Census Bureau, a record month-over-month increase.

Nearing mid-day trading, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up nearly 550 points (about 2.1%) as investors cheered the news.

Last month’s number easily beat the previous monthly record of 6.7% set in October 2001, as well as the 8% estimate expected by economists surveyed by Dow Jones.

In addition, April as compared to March was revised upward to a decline of 14.7% from the previous estimate of 16.4%, providing more good news.

Retail and food service sales for May, however, were down 6.1% compared to the same period a year prior, meaning there’s still ground to make up before retail will return to normal levels.

Retail trade sales minus food service were up 16.8% in May compared to April, but 1.4% below the same period a year prior. Total sales for the March through May period were down 10.5% year-over-year.

The advance estimates provided by the Census Bureau are adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes.

In terms of individual categories within retail, clothing and accessories perhaps had the most to feel good about, with sales up almost 188% to about $8.1 billion in May from about $2.8 billion in April, but still well below the roughly $22 billion in sales for the same period a year prior.

The sale of home furnishings increased almost 90% in May, month-over-month, while sales of sporting goods, musical instruments, hobby and books were up about 88%.

The sale of building materials, garden equipment and garden supplies in May was another bright spot, as they were up 16.4% year-over-year, even more than nearly 11% month-over-month increase.

@RichCollings richard.collings@adweek.com Richard Collings is a retail reporter at Adweek.