Economists' Outlook

Housing stats and analysis from NAR's research experts.

Instant Reaction: Retail Trade Sales June 16, 2021

U.S. advance estimates of retail and food service sales for May 2021 decreased slightly from April 2021. Retail sales recorded a seasonally-adjusted total of $620.2 billion in June, a 1.3% decrease. While retail sales in May realized a month-over-month loss, sales remain near the record high. May's retail sales reflect consumers' continued optimism regarding the current economic environment as consumer confidence remained essentially unchanged in May. Consumer confidence should remain resilient in the near future as the rate of vaccine distribution increases, COVID-19 cases decrease, and as pandemic-related restrictions continue to ease.

Total sales from March 2021 through May 2021 were up 36.2% from the same period one year ago as consumers display their capacity and readiness to spend.

While retail spending for May was marginally down, the month-over-month figures do not tell the whole story. The more telling story is May 2021's year-over-year figure. Year-over-year sales for May 2021 indicate a 28.1% increase above that which was recorded in May 2020, as high levels of retail spending continue. May 2021 recorded the third-highest figure for retail sales on record, with retail sales operating at new heights that continue to exceed pre-pandemic sales as the economy continues to recover. Strong demand persists for retail goods, even with both increasing inflation expectations and the fading of further government aid until the expanded Child Tax Credit disbursements hit parents' bank accounts in the middle of July.

Retail trades sales released from the U.S. Census Bureau today were down 1.7% from April 2021 but were up more than 24% on a year-over-year basis. While the majority of retail categories saw a decline on a month-over-month basis in May, year-over-year sales were up in every category, led by significant increases for retailers such as clothing and clothing accessory stores (200.3%), electronics and appliance stores (91.2%), and food services and drinking places (70.5%). These retailers were closed this time last year as a result of measures taken to minimize the impact of COVID-19.