Economists see both hopeful and worrying signs about the health of the American consumer in Thursday’s retail sales figures.
The 7.5 percent increase in retail sales in June from the previous month is “clear evidence that people are returning to stores,” said Michelle Meyer, head of U.S. economics at Bank of America.
But Ms. Meyer said that much of the rebounding sales came in the first part of the month before new infections began spreading rapidly through states like Texas, Florida and California. She says that toward the end of last month and in the first few weeks of this month, consumers retreated again, even before states imposed new lockdowns.
“There was a real difference between the start and the end of the month,” she said.
The reality is that huge swaths of the retail, service and entertainment economy were still shut down in June, including movie theaters and many indoor malls. And even as some venues and stores reopened in states like New York, their closure in the states with rising infections is diminishing those gains.
The end of the supplemental unemployment benefits, totaling $600 a week, later this month could also deflate spending later in the summer. Back to school spending is also a question mark because so many schools have not decided whether they will require students to work remotely again in the fall.
Looking ahead, Beth Ann Bovino, chief U.S. economist at S&P Global, said there were growing questions about whether the bounce in retail sales in May and June would be fleeting.
“People are scared that this recovery bounce might be one and done,” said Ms. Bovino.