US retail sales rose in May, driven by surging cost of petrol at the pumps

US RETAIL sales rose for the first time in three months in May and the number of workers filing new claims for jobless benefits last week hit the lowest level since January, suggesting the recession was abating.<br /><br />The Commerce Department said that sales at U.S. retailers rose 0.5 per cent last month, lifted by strong petrol and building material receipts.<br /><br />A separate report from the Labour Department showed the number of US workers filing new claims for jobless aid fell 24,000 to 601,000 in the week ended 6 June, the lowest since the week of 24 January.<br /><br />The data bolstered the argument that the US economy&rsquo;s severe recession was close to hitting a bottom, with the sales report raising optimism that consumer spending would probably be flat to only modestly lower in the second quarter.<br /><br />However, analysts said the sales strength was largely a mirage that reflected higher gasoline prices.<br /><br />Gasoline prices in rose in every week in May, according to government data, increasing from $2.13 a gallon at the beginning of the month to $2.57 by 1 June.