Check out the euphoria surrounding the May retail sales data that's come out today. Apparently, retail sales came in double the expected amount. Double! Yes, that does sound impressive, as do statements like, "Americans spent twice as much as expected!" However, I have my doubts as to whether this says we're even close to out of the woods.

May retail sales increased 1%; stripping out gasoline spending, the increase was 0.8%, the heftiest increase in a year (a year with increasingly dismal consumer confidence). However, that figure includes the increasing impact of the government's economic stimulus rebates that have hit mailboxes and bank accounts in recent weeks; I apologize if this information doesn't really make me want to party yet.

While Wal-Mart's (NYSE:WMT) remarkable sales data in recent months is great news for Wal-Mart shareholders (as are similar tidings for Costco (NASDAQ:COST)), such successes really underline that American consumers are mostly shopping for necessities and bargains, and not shopping till they're dropping like they were several years ago.

A quick check of the site might also make you think. The purchases posted by different people include a new bicycle (the poster had ditched her car -- sorry, GM (NYSE:GM) and Ford (NYSE:F); that's another example that the tide is turning), a trip to see a new grandchild (long-distance traveling's normally too expensive now), and a gun. And of course, some people claim they're saving all or at least part of their rebates; one best-of-both-worlds poster pointed out he could get an Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) Time Capsule and then save the rest of his rebate.

There's been so much bad news lately, I can see why many people would be thrilled to get some better-than-expected data, but a dose of skepticism is in order. After all, Americans can't really help but spend when the prices of food and gas are going through the roof, and I'm sure some folks are taking the opportunity to buy some treats with their checks, since things have gotten so tight. However, the stimulus payments are just a short-term fix, not a cure for what ails this economy.

I can't help thinking that once those "stimulating" payments have filtered out of many consumers' bank accounts, it's going to be a long, hot, uncomfortable summer indeed. So don't throw any parties yet on the renewed strength of the American consumer.

Shop around at some related Foolishness: