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Today the U.S. Census Bureau released preliminary estimates of nationwide retail sales in May 2023 and revised estimates for April 2023. (The data include both brick-and-mortar and Internet sales.)

Retail Sales Roughly Flat. Seasonally adjusted U.S. retail sales dropped 0.2 percent from February to May. Cumulative twelve-month growth in sales from May 2022 to May 2023 was 1.6 percent.

Recent One-Month Changes Too Volatile to Be Informative. As noted previously, recent patterns suggest that the Census Bureau’s seasonal adjustment for retail sales might not be working as intended. Until these concerns are addressed, numbers that are less sensitive to seasonal patterns---such as the three-month and twelve-month growth rates noted above---likely provide more useful information than monthly numbers.

Inflation-Adjusted Sales Declined Over Last 3 Months and Last 12 Months. Across all goods and services purchased by consumers, U.S. prices increased by 0.5 percent from February to May. From May 2022 to May 2023, prices grew 4 percent, more than offsetting the 1.6 percent growth in sales over that twelve-month period.


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