Retail sales dropped in May as shoppers shifted more of their spending from goods to services amid business reopenings, supply-chain disruptions and higher prices.
Consumers cut spending by 1.3% last month, reducing expenditures on autos, furniture, electronics, building materials and other items, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday. People spent more on these items throughout the pandemic, but are now pulling back.
With pandemic restrictions fading, consumers are spending more on services, which account for the bulk of economic output but aren’t captured in the retail-sales report other than restaurants and bars. Spending at restaurants and bars rose 1.8% last month, sending sales for this service beyond pre-pandemic levels. Americans also shelled out more on clothing in May, a category of goods they had shunned for much of the pandemic but are likely turning to as they go out again. Online sales dropped as well, signaling a pivot to in-person shopping.
The shift in retail habits came as government stimulus to households faded from earlier in the year and consumers encountered supply shortages and higher prices for products such as cars, lingering effects from the pandemic’s impact on the U.S. economy.
Retail spending in May was up 28% when compared with the same month a year ago, during widespread restrictions aimed at containing the coronavirus.
Credit- and debit-card spending on many leisure services rose in May from April, though at a slower pace than earlier in the year when vaccinations and business reopenings first unleashed pent-up demand, according to data tracked by Earnest Research. In the four weeks ending June 2, spending at casinos rose nearly 17% from the four weeks prior, while consumers spent 9% more at theme parks and indoor-entertainment centers including bowling alleys, according to Earnest Research. Spending at gyms was up almost 4% over the same period.
Spending, in part driven by trillions of dollars in stimulus, has helped propel the broader U.S. economy, which grew at a 6.4% annual rate in the first quarter. Economists expect consumer spending to continue powering the economic recovery this year, due to a convergence of factors.
For one, consumers have money to spend. Many are sitting on mounds of cash accumulated during lockdowns and multiple rounds of government stimulus. Improving job-market opportunities offer another source of income support.
Consumers also have more opportunities and confidence to spend. States continue to reopen their economies. Higher vaccination rates and lower Covid-19 case counts are also spurring more people to leave their homes.
However, the economy’s recovery continues to be uneven. Hiring gains are lagging behind gross domestic product growth as millions of workers remain sidelined due to factors such as expanded unemployment benefits, increased child-care responsibilities and fear of Covid-19. Consumer prices also rose last month from a year earlier, fueling concerns among some economists that the Federal Reserve won’t raise interest rates soon enough to contain inflationary pressures.
The Labor Department on Tuesday separately said its producer-price index rose 0.8% in May from the prior month, a strong increase that adds to signs of inflationary pressures in the…