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Economy in Brief

U.S. Retail Sales Post Uneven Gains At Yearend
by Tom Moeller  January 14, 2011

The holiday season ended quietly. Retail and food service sales rose 0.6% last month following gains of 0.8% and 1.6% during the prior two months, revised slightly from 0.8% and 1.7%. The rise was slightly short of expectations for a 0.8% gain according to the Bloomberg survey. During the last three months, sales rose at a 13.0% annual rate versus a 6.6% increase during all of last year. Excluding autos, sales rose 0.5% last month, close to expectations for a 0.7% rise. The gain was, however, down from the 1.0% increase during November, earlier reported at 1.2%. During the last three months, nonauto sales rose at a 9.7% rate after the 5.8% increase last year.

Motor vehicle sales ended the year on a firm note with a 1.1% increase. That compared with a 2.3% gain in unit sales, reported earlier this month. In addition, higher gasoline prices inflated the performance of year-end sales overall. The 1.6% gain in sales of gasoline service stations pulled sales up at a 30.4% annual rate since September. Excluding sales of autos and gasoline, retail sales rose 0.4% in December and at a 7.5% annual rate during the last three months.

Uneven gains in sales were apparent amongst other categories. Building material sales were strongest posting a 2.0% increase (13.1% y/y) last month. Sales at furniture stores also firmed with a 1.0% increase (1.4% y/y) after two months of slight decline. To the downside were general merchandise store sales with a 0.7% decline (+2.8% y/y). Sales of electronics & appliances fell 0.6% (+1.8% y/y) for the fourth decline in the last five months. Apparel sales slipped 0.2% (+7.4% y/y) after two months of strong gain. 

Again, much retail shopping was done on-line. Sales of non-store retailers jumped 2.6% in December (15.0% y/y) following several monthly increases over 1.0%. Currently, sales by electronic shopping & mail-order houses account for roughly ten percent of nonauto retail sales less building materials & gasoline.

The retail sales figure are available in Haver's USECON database.

Monetary Policy, Bubbles, And Goldilocks from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis is available here.

Retail Spending (%) Dec Nov Oct Dec Y/Y 2010 2009 2008
Total Retail Sales & Food Services 0.6 0.8 1.6 7.9 6.6 -6.4 -1.0
   Excluding Autos 0.5 1.0 0.8 6.7 5.8 -5.1 2.3
Retail Sales 0.7 0.9 1.8 8.2 7.0 -7.2 -1.4
   Motor Vehicle & Parts 1.1 0.2 5.4 14.2 10.3 -12.1 -13.9
   Retail excluding Autos 0.6 1.0 0.9 6.9 6.2 -5.9 2.3
   Gasoline 1.6 3.8 1.4 10.3 16.3 -24.8 9.9
   Non-Auto Less Gasoline 0.4 0.6 0.8 6.3 4.8 -2.4 1.0
Food Service 0.2 0.5 0.5 5.3 3.0 0.5 2.4
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