By Perc Pineda, PhD, PLASTICS Chief Economist

The advanced monthly sales for retail and food services in July came in at $478.9 billion—a 0.6 percent increase from June, according to the U.S. Census Report. June retail numbers were revised up, from a 0.2-percent decrease to a 0.3-percent increase from May’s figures.  

Eleven of the 13 retail business categories in the report showed an increase. Retail sales at electronics and appliance stores and clothing and clothing accessories stores fell 0.5 percent and 0.2 percent, respectively. Sales at motor vehicle and parts dealers, and building materials and garden equipment and supplies dealers—both sectors that are critical to the plastics industry—increased by 1.2 percent. The year-over-year figures were even more positive. From a year ago, they increased 5.7 percent and 8.3 percent, respectively. Retail sales at food and beverage stores, also an important sector for the plastics industry, rose 0.4 percent in July—a 2.3 percent increase from the same period last year.

Although the July retail sales data remains soft, by and large it was an improvement from the previous months of the year. After declining in February by 0.2 percent and remaining virtually unchanged in April and May, retail sales in July registered the largest increase since December 2016.

Monthly data in general are noisy and subject to revision. Nonetheless, the good news is that monthly retail sales in July rose 4.2 percent from a year ago, driven partially by gains in key end markets for plastics.