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Overall Retail Sales Growth Means Hope For Some Retailers, Not So Much For Others

Retail sales gained 0.3% in April compared with March, according to a Census Bureau report released Tuesday, following a more robust month-over-month increase from February to March, which was revised upward by the bureau to 0.8%. Compared with last year, retail sales overall gained 4.7%. 


Unlike some months, the increase last month was broad-based, and not dependent on auto sales, as happens sometimes. Auto sales were up 0.1% for the month and 4.3% for the year.

In April, and compared with last year, Americans spent more on a variety of retail goods, including furniture, building materials, grocery store food and clothing.

Spending was up for gasoline, too — 0.8% for the month, 11.7% for the year — but the bureau doesn't adjust its figures for price changes and the price of gas has been rising lately.

Is the broad-based rise in consumer spending enough to sustain the health of the retail sector? That may be part of it, "Mad Money" host Jim Cramer said on CNCB last week

"We have lots of retailers reporting next week, and while we've seen a bunch of downgrades of the group lately, I think that the stronger consumer, courtesy of tax reform, could result in some fabulous upside surprises," he said.

There will continue to be winners and losers in retail, and the latest numbers from the Census Bureau point to that as well. 

Some categories of retail sales were down for the month and even the year. Health and personal care stores — a crowded field — suffered a 0.4% drop in April and a 0.5% drop compared with last year.

Sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores, whose milkshake is being drunk by online sales, saw sales for the month down 0.1%, and sales for the year down 1.1%. Likewise electronics stores suffered a monthly drop of 0.1%, though sales were up for that sector for the year by 1.7%.

Department stores eked out a sales gain of 0.2% for the month, but saw sales down for the year by 1.6%. 

Online sales ("non-store" sales in Census Bureau terminology) gained ground, as has been the case almost every month for many years. In April, non-store sales gained 0.6%. For the year, non-store sales rose 9.6%