WASHINGTON – Lower-priced gas allowed Americans to step up their spending at retailers in April, from cars and clothes to electronics and appliances. The rebound from a weak March suggests consumers remain resilient in the face of higher taxes and could continue to drive economic growth this spring.
Retail sales edged up 0.1 percent in April, the Commerce Department said Monday. That’s an improvement from a 0.5 percent decline in March, the largest drop in nine months.
The April gain was stronger when taking out the effect of lower gas prices, which reduced sales at gas stations 4.7 percent. The retail sales report is not adjusted for price changes.
When excluding gas station sales, retail spending rose 0.7 percent. And core retail sales, which exclude gas, autos and building supplies, increased 0.5 percent. Economists focus on core sales because they strip out volatile categories.
Sales of autos rose 1 percent in April, rebounding from a 0.6 percent drop in March. Sales at clothing stores increased 1.2 percent and sales at general merchandise stores, a category that covers department stores, rose 1 percent. Sales were also strong at building materials and garden supply stores and electronics and appliance stores.
Consumers increased their spending in April, despite paying higher Social Security taxes that have reduced their paychecks this year. Their spending will likely add to economic growth in the April-June quarter. Consumer spending makes up roughly 70 percent of economic activity.
“This is a good start to the second quarter,” said Jennifer Lee, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets. “The rest of the year is expected to rise further on stronger household finances.”
The economy grew at a 2.5 percent annual rate from January through March, up from a 0.4 percent rate in the October-December quarter of 2012. The gain was largely because of the fastest consumer spending growth in more than two years.