Retail sales improve; jobless claims fall

But skepticism about consumers pushes retail stocks lower. Macy's drops nearly 5%.

By Charley Blaine Jun 11, 2009 8:00PM

This morning's retail sales and jobless claims reports added to hopes that the economy is slowly starting to pick up again.

 

The overall gain in May retail sales was mostly due to a 3.6% jump in gasoline sales, as prices at the pump have surged about 28% over the past six weeks.

 

Vehicle sales rose 0.5% last month, as consumers took advantage of deals at troubled automakers.

 

Excluding gas and autos, sales were up 0.1% last month. Retail sales fell a revised 0.2% in April and 1.2% in March.

 

"We expect retail sales to begin to pick up later this summer and into the fall," Michael Darda, chief economist at MKM Partners, wrote in a note this morning.

Sales at clothing stores rose 0.4% last month, with food and beverage stores also seeing a 0.4% increase. Sales fell 0.5% at electronics stores and 0.8% at sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores.

 

Retail stocks fell on the report. Wal-Mart Stores (WMT, news, msgs) dropped 1.5% to $49.32. Target (TGT, news, msgs) was down 2% to $39.55. Macy's (M, news, msgs) fell 4.6% to $12.

 

The jobs picture wasn't as rosy for continuing jobless claims as it was for initial claims, however.

 

Continuing claims for benefits hit a new high of 6.82 million, up 59,000 in the week ending May 30. Continuing claims have hit record highs for 19 consecutive weeks.

 

Still, one expert was optimistic about a bottom for job losses.

 

"We view the recent initial jobless claims readings as fairly convincing evidence that the worst of the labor market recession has passed," Nomura Securities chief economist David Resler wrote in a note to clients after the report was released.

 

"Jobless claims remain at a very high level and employment is likely to continue to decline. But the weekly claims reports suggest the first quarter will likely prove (to have been) the peak for job losses."

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