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Retail Sales Beat Expectations With Record 17.7% Gain, Gold Prices Slip

Retail sales smashed through expectations in May with 17.7% gains vs. 8% expected and following a decline of 16.4%. Clothing and accessories saw massive gains of 188% as stores around the country began to open up again, while sporting foods, hobby products, musical instruments, and book stores saw increased sales of 88.2%.

Key Takeaways

  • Retail sales rose 17.7% in May vs. 8% expected and -16.4% the month before.
  • Lockdown procedures began to lift around the US in May, triggering the increased sales.
  • Sales saw the largest monthly increase ever in May, beating the last record set in October 2001 at 7.1%.
  • Annual sales are still down 6.1%, and the US economy is likely still on course for the worst Q2 GDP reading in history.

Retail sales came in at 17.7% including food sales. Excluding motor vehicles and parts, a segment that rose 44.1%, retail sales rose 12.4% in May. Clothing and accessories saw a 188% increase in sales. US President Donald Trump tweeted that the stock market was seeing the benefit from the retail sales increase, likely referencing the 900 point gain in Dow futures.

Food services and drinking places saw 29.1% increased sales after being shut down for months during lockdown procedures. With lockdown measures lifting and Americans receiving government stimulus packages throughout May, sales saw a recovery far above expectations. However, retail sales are still reeling from record losses suffered throughout the pandemic, as is the US economy as a whole.

Many of the businesses that reopened in May did so with fewer employees, and tens of millions of Americans are still out of work due to the coronavirus outbreak. The US economy has suffered a major blow, and is expected to register its worst Q2 GDP reading ever, despite the unexpected boost in retail sales.

Expert Outlook

Some economists stated that the gain should be viewed in the context of the economic recession unfolding in the US, warning against taking the figures out of context.

“I think a lot of it is lockdown fatigue,” said Beth Ann Bovino, chief U.S. economist at S&P Global. “I would caution not to be fooled by this large gain. We still have a long way to go in repairing the economy.”

Market Reaction

Gold prices have seen some mild selling pressure following the news. Spot gold last traded at $1,722.20, down -0.31% with a high of $1,732.66/oz and a low of $1,721.45/oz. The Federal Reserve is expected to continue with its aggressive fiscal stimulus practices to help offset the negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and this is certain to create inflationary pressure in future. While record retail sales did boost the stock market and dampen the market for gold today, the reaction to the news was mild, with traders keeping their eye on long-term monetary policy.