US retail sales in May rose for the first time in three months, according to a government report yesterday (11 June), suggesting that consumer confidence is starting to improve.

The Commerce Department said total retail sales were 0.5% higher than in April, and contrast with a revised 0.2% drop between March and April.

Much of the growth was driven by rising gasoline prices, the figures showed.

Retail trade sales were up 0.5% in May, compared to a 0.3% decline in the prior month, although demand was still 10.8% below last year.

Sales at clothing and clothing accessories stores climbed 0.4% in the month, contrasting with a 0.7% slide in April and a 7.0% plunge last May.

This offset a 0.2% drop at department stores and general merchandise retailers such as Target and Wal-Mart.

However, US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said that while the numbers reflect improving consumer confidence, "May sales are still below their first-quarter average, reminding us of how difficult the economic environment remains."