NEW YORK (The Street) -- Even economists are scratching their heads over why consumers aren't spending more.
"Momentum into the second quarter is pretty soft for the consumer. It is a bit puzzling," said Michelle Meyer, deputy head of U.S. economics at Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAC). "We've seen a period of solid job growth, consumer confidence has improved and gas prices have fallen tremendously. The backdrop for the consumer should be pretty attractive, yet the consumer hasn't shown much benefit."
Retail sales showed no increase in April, the Commerce Department said on Wednesday, despite the 0.2% increase economists were looking for. Sales rose 1.1% in March, compared with a previously reported 0.9% increase. February saw a 0.5% decline in sales.
"The data was primed for a rebound and we saw that in March," Meyer added. "But it was a short lived rebound given the weak April numbers."
Spending at restaurants rose 0.7% during the month, while expenditures on bigger-ticket items like autos, fell 0.4%.
Department store sales slumped 2.2%, which helps explain Macy's (M) lackluster earnings, released on Wednesday. During the first-quarter, the retail giant's revenue decreased 0.7%, while profits fell 14%, on a year-over-year basis.
Still, economists say the month-to-month retail sales numbers are volatile and are subject to revisions.
Economic data is especially important in 2015, as the Federal Reserve looks for an opening to lift short-term interest rates, in an effort to normalize monetary policy. Rates have remained close to zero since December 2008.