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Expand chart
Data: Census; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Retail sales in May fell at a greater rate than what economists predicted. But a closer look reveals a somewhat encouraging economic snapshot.

Why it matters: Consumer spending accounts for about 68% of GDP. So, the trajectory of retail sales acts as a rough proxy for the direction of the economy.

By the numbers: According to the Census Bureau, total retail sales fell by 1.3% month over month in May, which was slightly worse than the 0.8% decline estimated by economists.

Yes, but: The prior two month’s numbers were revised up significantly. April retail sales actually grew 0.9% month over month, a big change from an initial print that showed no growth.

Between the lines: Examining the makeup of the numbers reflects an economy going through a ton of change as consumers emerge from their homes and do stuff.

  • Clothing sales were up 3%. Sales at restaurants and bars were up 1.8%.
  • Meanwhile, durable goods that don’t leave the house — furniture, electronics, appliances, building materials — saw sales declines.

The intrigue: The economic shutdown of 2020 and the subsequent reopening are unprecedented, making it incredibly difficult to get a good measurement of the economy as it regains its legs.

  • This is reflected by the substantial revisions to the historical retail sales figures. Economists face similar challenges in their forecasts.

The bottom line: Monthly readings on consumer behavior will remain very noisy as the effects of stimulus checks wear off and the growing population of vaccinated Americans shifts its spending patterns. But longer-term trends point to robust retail activity.

Go deeper

John Frank, author of Denver
Sep 22, 2021 - Axios Denver

Defying the pandemic, Colorado sees an economic rebound

Expand chart
Data: Colorado Legislative Council Economic Outlook; Note: 2021 average is from September 2020 to August 2021; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

The state's economy continues to show substantial growth even as coronavirus cases hit 2021 highs and inequities persist.

Why it matters: The dichotomy — revealed Tuesday in two economic forecasts — is driving how Colorado leaders respond to the pandemic and decide to allocate billions in state and federal relief.

Live video shopping format is on fire

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The everything old is new again trend is alive and well in retail with shoppable livestreaming — which is basically interactive commercials. Thanks to social technologies popularized by Gen Z, live video shopping a la QVC is on fire.

Why it matters: Consumer media and shopping habits moving online have primed retail and digital video to combine more seamlessly.

First-time homebuyers shrink as prices spike

Data: National Association of Realtors; Chart: Axios Visuals

Home sales cooled as prices continued to heat up in August.

Driving the news: The share of first-time existing homebuyers (29%) last month was the smallest in two years, according to new data from the National Association of Realtors.