U.S. stores and factories reported a pickup in activity last month, suggesting the economy is humming along without an urgent need for the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates.
Retailers posted a broad-based gain, with the value of overall sales rising 0.5% from April, and figures for the previous two months were revised higher. Manufacturing output also increased for the first time this year. Some researchers boosted forecasts for second-quarter economic growth following the reports.
U.S. stocks edged lower and long-term Treasury yields headed for a fourth straight decline on the data, which signaled that spending by American consumers — the economy’s main driver — is holding up amid low employment and rising wages, while manufacturers aren’t too demoralized yet by President Donald Trump’s trade war. Less upbeat numbers for payrolls and inflation in the past week led many investors to increase bets that the Fed will lower borrowing costs in the next couple of months.
“Today’s report was a bit of relief for the Fed. It takes out a sense of urgency for them to act,” Michelle Meyer, head of U.S. economics at Bank of America Corp., said after the retail figures. “The trend in the last three months for consumer spending was quite solid following the first quarter where it was soft.”
As well as the May gain, retail sales in April were revised to a 0.3% increase, according to Commerce Department figures released on Friday. Out of 13 major categories, 11 saw increases.
Sales in the “control group” subset, which some analysts view as a more reliable gauge of underlying consumer demand, climbed 0.5%, topping projections. The measure excludes more volatile items like food services and fuel stations.
Friday’s data prompted some economists to bump up forecasts for the economy. JPMorgan Chase & Co. revised its second-quarter growth estimate to a 1.75% annual rate from 1%, while IHS Markit’s Macroeconomic Advisers raised its tracking forecast 1.8% from 1.4%. The Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow second-quarter forecast increased to 2.1% from 1.4%.
In a separate report Friday, the Fed said manufacturing output rose 0.2% in May — in line with estimates in a Bloomberg survey — after falling 0.5% the month before. Total industrial production, which also includes mines and utilities, increased 0.4%.
While manufacturing momentum firmed, the sector “remains tepid overall,” Jake McRobie, a U.S. economist at Oxford Economics, wrote in a note. He sees industrial-production growth easing to 0.8% this year from 4% in 2018 amid “increasing trade tariffs, softening global growth and dissipating domestic stimulus.”
The University of Michigan’s survey was also less upbeat, showing U.S. consumer sentiment weakened in June and long-term inflation expectations dropped to the lowest on record as the outlook for the economy dimmed.
Investors are pricing in a July Fed rate cut as highly likely, although they did trim their bets slightly on Friday. Chairman Jerome Powell will give more insight into the Fed’s thinking at a press conference Wednesday following a two-day meeting of policy makers.
More Data Points
- The retail pickup was led by a 1.4% gain in non-store sellers, the most since January. That includes online shopping destinations such as Amazon.com.
- Sales at automobile and parts dealers advanced 0.7% after a decreasing 0.5% in the previous month, revised upward from a 1.1% drop. Industry data from Wards Automotive Group previously showed unit sales rebounded in May.
- Excluding automobiles and gasoline, retail sales increased 0.5% after a 0.3% gain the previous month, which was revised from a decline.
What Our Economists Say
“Consumers are poised to provide impressive contributions to overall growth amid favorable financial conditions, slow inflation and historically low unemployment this year.”– Yelena Shulyatyeva and Eliza Winger