Retail sales cool in U.S. after warm-weather spree

RETAIL SALES rose in April at the slowest pace of the year as Americans took a break from a shopping spree induced by unseasonably warm weather in prior months and an earlier Easter holiday.
Posted 5/15/12

WASHINGTON - Retail sales rose in April at the slowest pace of the year as Americans took a break from a shopping spree induced by unseasonably warm weather in prior months and an earlier Easter holiday.

The 0.1 percent gain followed a 0.7 percent increase in March, Commerce Department figures showed today in Washington. The April advance matched the median forecast in a Bloomberg News survey.

Sales of clothing declined, while purchases excluding cars, building materials and service stations -- the category used to calculate gross domestic product -- rose more than forecast.

Other reports today showed manufacturing in the New York region accelerated more than projected, and confidence among U.S. homebuilders jumped to a five-year high.

“Consumers overall are still pretty much engaged,” said Russell Price, a senior economist at Ameriprise Financial Inc. in Detroit, the most-accurate forecaster of retail sales in the two years through April, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News. “Manufacturing is still a solid contributor to growth. It is growing with the pace of demand.”

Stocks rose after the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index dropped to the lowest level in three months, as better-than-estimated economic data offset Greece’s failure to form a government. The S&P 500 rose 0.2 percent to 1,341.3 at 11:42 a.m. in New York.

Elsewhere in Europe, Germany helped the euro area avoid its second recession in three years as growth in the region’s largest economy offset contractions in peripheral countries.

German GDP

The economy in the 17-nation euro region stagnated in the latest quarter compared with the prior three months, the European Union’s statistics office in Luxembourg said. The German economy expanded 0.5 percent.

Nine of 13 major categories showed gains in retail sales last month, led by auto dealers, furniture stores and non-store retailers that include online merchants. Purchases at restaurants rose 0.4 percent in April after a 0.9 percent gain the month before.

“From the industry perspective, we’ve seen a pretty decent trend in sales over the last year,” G. Price Cooper, chief financial officer of restaurant chain Texas Roadhouse Inc., said during a May 9 investor conference.

Part of the slowdown in retail sales for April may reflect seasonal events that pulled purchases into the previous month. The average temperature in March was the warmest on record in the U.S., and Easter fell on April 8 compared with April 24 the year before.

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