July 16 (UPI) -- Retail sales in the United States last month increased by close to 8%, the Commerce Department said in its monthly report Thursday.
The report put the total June sales figure at $524.3 billion, an increase of 7.5% over May and 1.1% over June 2019.
"Retail trade sales were up 6.4% from May 2020, and 5% above last year," the report states. "Non-store retailers were up 23.5% from June 2019, while building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers were up 17.3%."
Dow Jones survey of economists had expected retail sales to improve 5%, excluding vehicle sales. Sales prices surprised experts in May with an increase of 17.4%.
Sales in June were helped by the final rounds of federal stimulus checks and tax refunds, but experts caution that the July sales report should reflect some economic downturn seen in states where the COVID-19 pandemic has gotten worse.
States like California, Florida and Texas recently had to pull back from re-opening their economies because of significant rises in cases.
Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton, said next month's report will likely reflect an economic downturn for states that again had to lock down due to a resurgence of coronavirus cases.
"[June's numbers are] backward-looking, and I'm afraid we might get a decline in July," Swonk said. "That was before states went into reversing lockdowns. Foot traffic in malls declined."
Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC Financial Services Group, said any increase must be viewed with cautious optimism.
"The labor market is not as bad as it was a couple of months ago, but we are still in a very deep hole," Faucher said.