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May was a sluggish month for America’s retailers

Shoppers Flock To Post-Christmas SalesShoppers Flock To Post-Christmas Sales
People shop at Macy's department store in New York.Photograph by Andrew Burton — Getty Images

Retail sales climbed 0.3% in May from the prior month, the Commerce Department reported Thursday, though the growth wasn’t as strong as economists had expected.

Economists surveyed by Bloomberg News had predicted a 0.6% increase in May. The Commerce Department also upwardly revised its April sales growth estimate to 0.5% from 0.1% previously.

Separately, the government reported the number of new claims for weekly unemployment benefits edged higher again last week.

Though the May sales data were muted for the latest month, retail sales have climbed for four consecutive months. U.S. employers added a greater-than-expected 217,000 jobs in May, according to a Labor Department report earlier this month. While employers have added jobs consistently for the past few years, the recovery from the “Great Recession” has been slower than the four previous recoveries that took, on average, more than one year.

Modest recovery in the job market, as well as economic growth and an improving housing market, are all expected to help boost retail sales this year.

Consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of economic output.

On a sequential basis, the Commerce Department reported retail sales results in May were boosted by growth at gasoline stations, building material and garden equipment, and furniture and home furnishing stores. The auto industry was again a bright spot in the report—as motor vehicle and parts dealers’ retail sales jumped 1.4%.

Notably, sales were weaker at electronics and appliance stores and food and beverage retail stores.