Retail sales nearly flat in April after strong March

U.S. retail sales growth slowed in April, with consumers shopping less online and cutting back on purchases of furniture and electronics.

The Commerce Department said Tuesday that seasonally adjusted retail sales rose just 0.1 percent last month, after surging 1.5 percent in March following a harsh winter that had curtailed shopping.

Several economists said the April figures might have been depressed because of seasonal adjustments connected to a later than usual Easter. Still, the modest sales suggest that consumers may remain cautious. Higher sales would help drive faster growth because consumers account for about 70 percent of the economy.

S&P 500 closes at record high, nears 1,900 mark

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index is flirting with a new milestone: 1,900.

The index briefly climbed above that level on Tuesday before dropping back to close just below it. Still, it set an all-time closing high by a fraction of point, rising 0.8 points to 1,897.45, after climbing as high as 1,902 in early trading. The index first closed above 1,800 on Nov. 22.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 19.97 points, or 0.1 percent, to 16,715.44. The Nasdaq fell 13.7 points, or 0.3 percent, to 4,130.17.

Madoff Victim Fund swamped with claims

Officials say the number of victims seeking relief for fraud committed by Madoff Securities is much larger than previously thought.

The U.S. Department of Justice official in charge of administering the Madoff Victim Fund said Tuesday that the fund has received more than 51,700 claims. There were claims from investors in 119 countries with losses of more than $40 billion.

The claims have not been reviewed to eliminate those that are ineligible. But the flood of requests gives a new indication of the size and global reach of the Madoff fraud.

The fund plans to distribute just over $4 billion assets forfeited in the Madoff case.

Business stockpiles rise and sales spike in March

U.S. businesses increased their stockpiles in March, and sales increased by the largest amount in 10 months.

Stockpiles rose 0.4 percent after a 0.5 percent rise in February, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. Sales in March jumped 1 percent, the largest advance since May, after a 0.9 percent increase in February.

Both months represented a solid rebound after a 0.9 percent sales decline in January that was blamed in part on the harsh winter weather.

The two months of sizable gains in sales should encourage businesses to keep restocking to meet rising demand. That would mean increased orders to factories and rising production, which would lead to stronger economic growth.

– From news service reports