A month after recording the worst single-month drop on record in April, retail sales in the U.S. rose by a record 17.7 percent in May, according to statistics released Tuesday by the Department of Commerce.
The total value of retail sales last month, $486 billion, is still 8 percent below January’s peak of nearly $530 billion, according to data from the St. Lous Federal Reserve.
The retail sub-sector to see the largest gains by far was clothing and clothing accessories, which rose by 188 percent month-over-month, but was still down 63.4 percent compared to last May.
Furniture (89.7 percent) and the “Sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument, & book stores” sub-sector (88.2 percent) also saw substantial increases. Meanwhile, grocery stores (1.3 percent) and health & personal care (0.4 percent) saw little change in sales.
Nonstore retailers, which have powered through the coronavirus crisis to a 30.8-percent increase year-over-year, continued their steady growth with a 9-percent increase in sales in May.
Prior to the coronavirus crisis, the largest single-month increase in retail sales occurred the month after the September 11th terrorist attacks, when sales rose by a seasonally-adjusted 6.7 percent. And the largest drop, of 3.9 percent, occurred in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis.
Tuesday’s retail sales figures are the latest in a mix of good and bad economic statistics to come out in recent weeks, as businesses across the country have moved to reopen while concerns remain about the possibility of a second wave of coronavirus infections.
In early June, stock markets rallied in response to a far better-than-expected jobs report which showed that the economy added 2.5 million jobs in May. But a week later, they saw their largest single-day drop since March amid concerns over rising infections, Federal Reserve policy, and a possible stock market bubble.
In the housing market, mortgage applications for new home purchases have continuously risen to reach levels not seen since January, all while the percentage of home loans in forbearance has risen as well.