The NRF reported that April retail sales, excluding automobiles, gas stations, and restaurants, saw a 0.3 percent seasonally-adjusted increase over March, and were up 3 percent on an unadjusted annual basis. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had expected a 0.5% gain.
The Commerce Department said total retail sales in April were up by 4.5% compared to the same month a year ago. Stronger March data than originally reported may help boost U.S. GDP, which showed a 0.7% pace of growth in the government's first estimate.
April sales for furniture and home furnishings retailers jumped 3.8% from the same month past year, lagging behind the 4.5% gain for the broader retail sector.
The increase suggests that consumers may spur faster growth in the April-June quarter after the economy barely expanded in the first three months of the year.
While retail is in a state of flux, the source of those difficulties is not mainly due to a major slowdown in consumer spending, Saunders said. Vehicle sales dropped, Americans spent less on home heating due to mild winter weather, and some households experienced delays in receiving tax refunds from the Internal Revenue Service. Looking at the overall economy, the US central bank said it "views the slowing in growth during the first quarter as likely to be transitory".
"The backdrop is generally favourable for consumers, with an unemployment rate of 4.4 per cent, gradually improving wage pressures, low borrowing costs and high household wealth", Michelle Meyer and other Bank of America economists wrote in a note before the data. Bankruptcies are far outpacing last year's rate. Over the past year, nonstore sales rose 11.9% and department-store sales fell 3.7%.
However, the upside was limited by decreases in sales by clothing and accessories stores, furniture and home furnishings stores, and general merchandise stores.