business news in context, analysis with attitude

Retail sales during May showed a 17.7 percent increase, the US Department of Commerce announced yesterday, numbers that stood in sharp relief to the two previous months - there was a 14.7 percent drop in April and an 8.3 percent decline in March.

However, the New York Times reports, "the underlying data presents a more complicated picture and shows just how arduous an economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic will be.

"The May numbers followed two months of record declines, and overall sales were still down 8 percent from February. Some categories, like clothing, were down as much as 63 percent from a year earlier. And many of the stores and restaurants that welcomed back customers last month did so with fewer employees, reflecting a permanently altered retail landscape and an ominous sign for the labor market."

The story notes that "May’s retail sales figures became the latest data point fueling the debate in Washington and on Wall Street about whether a broad reopening of businesses will cause the economy to snap back quickly or if additional stimulus measures are needed."

KC's View:

It would have been extraordinary if the numbers had not gone up in May, a month during which the retail economy opened up - to varying degrees, depending on the location - and a lot of people went back to stores and restaurants after having been cooped up for months.

My biggest concern is about what will happen when the second wave hits … which seems inevitable especially as we see some of the infection and hospitalization numbers going up in some of the states where reopening happened the fastest.  The question for me is how much pounding the economy can take.