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Retail sales for May appeared to take a slight dip, marking the first drop in U.S. retail performance in 11 months. Advance estimates for May's retail sales dipped to $387.1 billion, a decrease of 0.2 percent from April, according to the latest figures released by the Census Bureau last week.
That said, May's performance was still up from last year, ringing in at 7.7 percent above May 2010. Also, total sales for the March through May 2011 period were up 7.5 percent from the same period a year ago.
Poor car sales were the main cause of the drop, falling 2.9 percent. Excluding auto sales, core retail sales increased 3 percent. That said, gasoline stations were up 3 percent, as well.
"The better-than-expected core retail sales is the key data release this morning," Standard Chartered's U.S. economist David Semmens told England's Financial Times. "It indicates that the U.S. consumer has the potential to recover from the gasoline-related hit."
In related news, the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) increased 0.2 percent in May on a seasonally adjusted basis, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last week. Over the last 12 months, the all-items index increased 3.6 percent before seasonal adjustment.
The index for all items less food and energy increased 0.3 percent in May, its largest increase since July 2008. Apparel, shelter, new vehicles and recreation were key contributors to the rise, gaining more in May than in April.
Notably, food prices were up for May, with the food at home index gaining 0.5 percent after four of the six major grocery store food group indexes increased, with the index for meats, poultry, fish and eggs rising the most.
Interestingly, while retail sales at gas stations were up, the gasoline index decreased for the first time since last June, the Bureau said. In fact, the overall energy index declined for the month.
The Producer Price Index (PPI) showed similar performance for May, with the PPI for finished goods rising 0.2 percent for the month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics also reported last week. While up, May's PPI indicated a tapering in advances. May's 0.2 percent gain followed increases of 0.8 percent in April and 0.7 percent in March.
In housing news for May, construction permits issued for private housing were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 612,000, the Census Bureau and Department of Housing reported last week. This marked an 8.7 percent gain over April's revised rate of 563,000 and was 5.2 percent above the May 2010 estimate of 582,000. Permits for single-family home construction issued in May were at a rate of 405,000; this is 2.5 percent above the revised April figure of 395,000.
Construction starts on private homes in May reached a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 560,000, which was 3.5 percent over April's revised estimate of 541,000, but was 3.4 percent below the May 2010 rate of 580,000. Starts on single-family homes in May were at a rate of 419,000, 3.7 percent over April's revised figure of 404,000.
In employment news, first-time claims for unemployment insurance dipped to 414,000, a decrease of 16,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 430,000, the Employment and Training Administration reported last week. Despite the dip, the four-week moving average was 424,750, unchanged from the previous week's revised average of 424,750.
Total insured unemployment during the week ending June 4 dropped to 3,675,000, a decrease of 21,000 from the preceding week's revised level of 3,696,000. The four-week moving average was 3,709,000, a decrease of 15,250 from the preceding week's revised average of 3,724,250.
This week has a somewhat light schedule of economic headlines, starting tomorrow with existing home sales figures for May from the National Association of REALTORS®.
The Census Bureau follows Thursday with new home sales data for May. Also on Thursday, the Employment and Training Administration will release initial jobless claims data for last week.
The week's headlines wrap up Friday with Q1 GDP data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and May's durable goods orders from the Census Bureau.