May 12, 2008 / 4:06 AM / 9 years ago

April retail sales barely budged: SpendingPulse

<p>Shopper Laura Miller (L) and her daughter shop at a Wal-Mart store in Santa Clarita, California April 1, 2008.Mario Anzuoni</p>

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Retail sales barely rose in April, as a relentless surge in gasoline prices made consumers cut back other types of spending, according to a report released on Monday.

Consumer spending excluding autos grew only 0.1 percent last month on a seasonally adjusted basis, less than the 0.6 percent increase in March, said SpendingPulse, the retail data service of MasterCard Advisors, which is a unit of MasterCard Worldwide.

"In general, consumers are spending less. Without gasoline, they are spending a lot less," said Kamalesh Rao, director of economic research at MasterCard Advisors.

Retail sales excluding cars and gasoline fell 0.7 percent in April versus March.

U.S. retail gasoline prices reached another record, hitting $3.61 a gallon in the week ended May 2, according to the government. Crude prices broke above $126 a barrel on Friday.

Expensive gasoline forced consumers, who have already been squeezed by the housing slump, to reduce other purchases, Rao said. He added that the few bright spots in this deteriorating retail environment were clothing and electronics.

"There was a pickup in apparel sales because we had such a cold March," he said.

Clothing sales were up 5.5 percent in April from a year ago.

Meanwhile, the blockbuster sale of Take-Two Interactive Software Inc's criminal action game "Grand Theft Auto 4" boosted a soft electronics sector, according to SpendingPulse.

The global launch of this video game totaled an estimate $500 million in the first week, making it one of the most lucrative ever in entertainment launches. See

Partly due to advance sales of the game, April sales of electronics and appliances were up 0.2 percent from a year earlier.

However, sales growth in clothes and electronics were not enough to lift SpendingPulse's "core" consumer spending gauge, which excludes autos, gasoline and building materials.

"Core" retail sales slipped 0.2 percent last month on a seasonally adjusted basis, after a 0.5 percent drop in March.

The SpendingPulse data are derived from the aggregate sales in the MasterCard U.S. payment network, coupled with estimates on all other payment methods including cash and check.

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