16 Jul 2018

Strong U.S. retail sales brighten economic outlook

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. retail sales rose solidly in June as households boosted purchases of automobiles and a range of other goods, cementing expectations for robust economic growth in the second quarter.

FILE PHOTO: A shopper carries Gap shopping bags at The Grove mall in Los Angeles November 26, 2013. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

Signs of a strengthening economy, together with a tightening labor market and firming inflation, likely will keep the Federal Reserve on track to continue raising interest rates this year.

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell offered an upbeat assessment of the economy last Friday, telling lawmakers that “over the first half of this year, overall economic activity appears to have expanded at a solid pace.” The U.S. central bank raised interest rates in June for the second time this year and has forecast two more rate hikes by the end of 2018.

“This puts the economy in a very, very good position as it starts its tenth year of forward movement in July,” said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York. “This strengthening economy gives the Federal Reserve the green light to raise rates a third time this year at their September meeting.”

The Commerce Department said on Monday that retail sales increased 0.5 percent last month. Data for May was revised higher to show sales rising 1.3 percent instead of the previously reported 0.8 percent gain.

May’s gain in retail sales was the largest since September 2017. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast retail sales rising 0.5 percent in June. Retail sales in June increased 6.6 percent from a year ago.

FILE PHOTO: A shopper walks in the Old Town shopping area of Pasadena, California, U.S. June 27, 2017. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/File Photo

Excluding automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services, retail sales were unchanged last month after an upwardly revised 0.8 percent increase in May.

These so-called core retail sales correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product. Core retail sales were previously reported to have risen 0.5 percent in May.

Given the upward revision to May’s data, the unchanged reading in core retail sales last month likely does not change views that consumer spending accelerated in the second quarter.

Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, braked sharply in the January-March period, growing at its slowest pace in nearly five years.

The dollar pared losses against a basket of currencies after the data, while stocks on Wall Street .DJI .IXIC .SPX were flat. U.S. Treasuries were lower, with the yield on the interest rate-sensitive two-year note US2YT=RR rising to its highest level since August 2008.

ROBUST GROWTH FORECAST

In addition to the solid retail sales data, a sharp narrowing of the trade deficit in April and May has also bolstered expectations of a strong GDP reading for the second quarter. Second-quarter growth expectations were also boosted by another report from the Commerce Department on Monday showing business inventories increased 0.4 percent in May.

Growth estimates for the April-June quarter are as high as a 4.9 percent annualized rate. The economy grew at a 2.0 percent pace in the first three months of 2018. The government will publish its snapshot of second-quarter GDP later this month.

Separate data from the New York Fed on Monday showed a slight moderation in factory activity in New York state in July amid a pullback in new order growth and shipments. Factory employment in the region remained solid this month.

A strong labor market should underpin consumer spending.

In June, auto sales increased 0.9 percent after advancing 0.8 percent in May. Receipts at service stations rose 1.0 percent on higher gasoline prices.

Sales at building material stores increased 0.8 percent last month after surging 2.5 percent in May. Online and mail-order retail sales jumped 1.3 percent, the biggest gain since November 2017, after rising 0.4 percent in May.

Receipts at furniture stores rebounded 0.6 percent. Sales at restaurants and bars increased 1.5 percent in June.

But receipts at clothing stores fell 2.5 percent, the biggest drop since February 2017. There were also decreases in sales at supermarkets, electronics and appliance stores, as well as general merchandise stores.

Spending at hobby, musical instrument and book stores declined further, falling 3.2 percent. That was the largest drop since December 2017.

Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Dan Grebler

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