U.S. May retail sales surge 17.7% in the biggest monthly jump ever

Mall employee Glenby Ramirez, right, wipes down the escalator handrail while shoppers pass by as South Coast Plaza reopens, requiring customers maintain a social distance and wear face masks at South Coast Plaza Thursday, June 11, 2020 in Costa Mesa, CA.

Allen J. Schaben | Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Retail sales shattered already-lofty expectations for May as consumers freed from the coronavirus-induced lockdowns began shopping again.

The 17.7% headline gain including food sales easily topped the previous record from October 2001 and beat the 8% estimate from economists surveyed by Dow Jones.

Retail sales alone powered 16.8% higher from a month ago, more than double the estimate of 8% from Dow Jones and reversing a 16.4% plunge from a month ago. Clothing and accessories stores reported the biggest percentage gain at 188% while sporting goods, hobby, musical instruments and book stores rose 88.2%.

The numbers added to an already-upbeat mood on Wall Street, with Dow futures most recently pointing to an opening gain of more than 900 points.

Excluding motor vehicles and parts, which popped by 44.1%, May’s gain came in at 12.4%. 

After being almost completely shuttered during the lockdown, food services and drinking places saw a 29.1% rebound in May. Some states began allowing outdoor dining during the month after the establishments were limited to curbside pickup and delivery.

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