United States clothing retail sales slip in April

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Washington, DC, May 12, 2017-Advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for April 2017 were $474.9 billion, an increase of 0.4% from the previous month, and 4.5% above April 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Auto sales rose 0.7 percent after falling in March.

Sales at gasoline stations were 12.3% higher in April than a year ago, as the cost of oil strengthened.

The increase in retail sales was partly due to a rebound in auto sales, with sales by motor vehicle and parts dealers rising by 0.7% in March after falling by 0.5% in February.

April online and other non-store sales (e-commerce) headed up 1.4 percent on a seasonally-adjusted basis over March and were up 9.4 percent on an unadjusted basis annually, the NRF said.

Purchases also improved at internet retailers, restaurants, sporting goods stores and building materials outlets. Sales fell at grocery stores and clothing merchants. Gasoline stations sales were up 12.3% from April 2016, while Nonstore Retailers were up 11.9% from past year. The unemployment rate in April was 4.4%, according to the Labor Department, matching its lowest level since 2001.

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Consumer confidence has soared since the presidential election, but spending hasn't increased as much as the jump in optimism would suggest. And inflation has ticked up, eroding most of that wage gain.

Brick-and-mortar retailers are suffering through their worst patch since the Great Recession. Year-over-year core sales increased 4.5%.

By many accounts, retail sales picked up in the later part of the first quarter of 2017; J.C. Penney CEO Marvin Ellison made a note of that in his statement on the company's report Friday morning.

This story has been corrected to show that a category including department stores reported a 0.5 percent drop in sales.

Electronics stores, for instance, enjoyed an increase in sales of 1.3 percent for April, and 0.7 percent for the year. Sales at department stores rose 0.2 percent, rather than falling 0.2 percent.