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May Retail Sales Surge Most on Record as US Returns to Work After Coronavirus Shutdowns

U.S. retail sales rose the most on record last month, topping a previous peak recorded in October 2001, as millions of Americans returned to work following weeks of coronavirus shutdowns.

U.S. retail sales surged the most on record last month, the Commerce Department said Tuesday, as millions of Americans returned to work following weeks of coronavirus-triggered lockdowns that shuttered the world's largest economy. 

Retail sales rose 17.7% in May, the Commerce Department said, well ahead of the 8% forecast and well ahead of the downwardly-revised April reading of -14.7%. The so-called retail control reading, which strips out volatile auto, gas, building material and food services sales, was marked 11% higher in May, more than double the Street consensus forecast.

The gains mimic those seen in last month's payroll report, which showed a record 2.5 million Americans returned to work last month as businesses and factories around the country began the slow process of re-starting activity following weeks of coronavirus shutdowns.

U.S. equity futures surged higher after the release, alongside a report that suggested that U.K. scientists have found a 'major breakthrough' in treating coronavirus patients with the steroid dexamethasone. 

Futures contracts tied to the Dow Jones Industrial Average priced for a 1,000 point opening bell gain, while those linked to the S&P 500, which clawed back its month-to-date losses with a late-hour rally yesterday, indicate an 98 point advance for the benchmark. Contracts linked to the Nasdaq suggest 227 point gain for the tech-focused index.

Auto and car part sales lead the headline gain, the report said, rising 44.1% compared to the April decline of 12.3%. Gasoline sales also impressed, rising 12.8% even as pump prices neared $2 a gallon in the wake of OPEC production cuts and rising global crude prices.