The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry gently upgraded its retail sales assessment Wednesday, with the scale of the year-on-year decline in sales having shrank to 3 percent in May from 4.5 percent in April.

While a ministry official said retail sales continue to show a “weakening tone,” he added that “some positive moves were partly seen.”

It is the first time the ministry has upgraded its view since it began issuing assessments of this kind along with its monthly reports in 2000.

The “positive moves partly seen” are still fragile, however, and fall short of indicating that retail sales — a key gauge of personal consumption — have bottomed out, according to the official.

Sales by retailers totaled 10.71 trillion yen in the reporting month, down for the 14th month in a row, while those of wholesalers fell 2.5 percent to 35.35 trillion yen, marking a 16th successive year-on-year dip.

The improvements are due to volatile price recoveries in petroleum products and perishable foods, as well as the temporary factor of brisk sales of television sets before the World Cup soccer finals kicked off May 31, the official said.

Fuel retailers recouped losses for the first time in nine months, rising 1.1 percent. This halted the downward trajectory of retail categories across the board for the first time in eight months.

The margin of declining sales at home appliance stores shrank to 2.3 percent in May from 4.4 percent in April, while that of food and beverage stores decreased to 1.6 percent from 2 percent.

Clothing store sales shed 7.7 percent, the same amount as in April, due to relatively cool temperatures that discouraged summer clothing purchases.

Sales among large retailers were down 1.6 percent on a same-store basis, logging a 49th successive monthly drop.

Meanwhile, department store sales fell 1.9 percent, marking a second straight monthly fall and those of supermarkets dipped 1.3 percent, down for the 49th month in a row.

Convenience store sales fell 1.7 percent, down for the 11th straight month.

In the wholesale category, motor vehicle wholesalers enjoyed 8 percent growth thanks to brisk exports and domestic sales led by small cars.

Sales among electric machinery wholesalers gained 2.2 percent, but general traders suffered a 15.9 percent drop.

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