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Higher gas prices help Canadian retail sales edge up in April

A Petro-Canada sign displays the price of unleaded gas at 77.9 cents CAD (55.7 cents USD) per litre in Ottawa, Canada, January 29, 2016. To match Wider Image/Global Oil price. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Canadian retail sales growth edged up 0.1 per cent to $51.5 billion in April, largely due to higher gas prices and a jump in food and drink sales.

According to Statistics Canada, a 1.2 per cent boost in sales at gas stations was the main contributor to April’s slight increase. Sales at food and beverage stores increased 0.4 per cent, while receipts at miscellaneous retailers (which includes pet and cannabis stores) increased 2.8 per cent in the month.

Overall, sales were up in seven of 11 subsectors which represent 74 per cent of the retail landscape.

But taking out price increases, TD economist Omar Abdelrahman said in a note that “the picture was still disappointing.”

“The Canadian consumer spending picture stands in contrast with employment growth and a job market that has been firing on all cylinders,” Abdelrahman wrote.

“Part of this is likely due to past interest rate increases still working their way into the system, and indebted households remaining cautious.”

Economists also say that the less-than-stellar early spring weather has likely kept shoppers at home.

“A later than normal arrival of spring weather appears to have contributed to retail sales looking soft in April,” CIBC economist Royce Mendes wrote in a note Friday.

“However, the weakness was relatively concentrated during the month, and could prove somewhat transitory given that temperatures have finally risen.”

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