WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. retail sales increased slightly in June, evidence that consumers remain cautious despite steady job gains this year.
Retail sales rose just 0.2 percent last month, the Commerce Department said Tuesday, held back by a sharp drop at building and garden supply stores. Sales also fell at restaurants and at auto dealers.
The figures suggest that Americans are still reluctant to spend freely, limiting growth in the April-June quarter. While employers have stepped up hiring since January, wage growth remains weak and is barely keeping up with inflation. Retail sales are closely watched because consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of the economy.
Still, economists were encouraged by some of the details in the report. A measure of retail sales that excludes volatile categories such as gasoline and autos rose at a solid 0.6 percent clip. Clothing stores, sporting goods stores and department stores all recorded decent sales gains. And a category that includes online and catalog retailers jumped 0.9 percent in June and has increased 8.1 percent in the past 12 months. That's nearly double the 4.3 percent growth in overall retail sales in the past year.
"While the headline number for June was disappointing, there were some underlying pockets of strength," Jim Baird, chief investment officer for Plante Moran Financial Advisors, said. "The solid advance ... across numerous retail sectors suggests that consumers are spending, but doing so selectively."
Sales at auto and auto parts dealers fell 0.3 percent, which contradicts strong data released by the automakers themselves earlier this month. The automakers had said sales reached an eight-year high in June. The two sets of data can sometimes conflict on a month-to-month basis.
Retail sales were revised higher in May to 0.5 percent from 0.3 percent, and in April to 0.6 percent from 0.5 percent.