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Economy in Brief

U.S. Retail Sales Gain Minimally
by Tom Moeller  January 12, 2012

Consumers took a break from raising spending last month. Total retail sales ticked up 0.1% (6.5% y/y) during December following a revised 0.4% November increase, last month reported as 0.2%. Consensus expectations had been for a 0.3% rise according to Action Economics. The gain pulled last year's sales increase to 7.7% after the 6.4% rise during 2010. The December increase owed to a 1.5% jump in spending on motor vehicles & parts. Less autos, retail sales fell 0.2% (+6.0% y/y) after a revised 0.3% November gain, last month reported as 0.2%. For the full-year nonauto sales increased 7.3%. Consensus expectations had been for a gain of 0.3% in nonauto sales.  

Strength in spending last month focused on motor vehicles. Auto sales gained 1.5% (8.8% y/y) compared to a 0.5% m/m slip in unit sales reported earlier this month. Sales of gasoline fell 1.6% (+8.9% y/y) despite a slight m/m gain in prices, when seasonally adjusted by Haver. Sales at food & beverage stores slipped 0.2% (+4.9% y/y) but building materials sales jumped 1.6% (5.8% y/y). Excluding both autos and gasoline, retail sales slipped 0.1% last month (+5.1% y/y) and reversed the November uptick.

Sales of other discretionary items were mixed. Sales of furniture, home furnishings & appliances fell 1.6% (+2.6% y/y) following five months of increase. General merchandise store sales fell 0.8% (+2.7% y/y), the third consecutive monthly decline. Conversely, sales at clothing & accessory stores rose 0.7% (6.0% y/y) after a 0.4% November gain. Sales by nonstore retailers fell 0.4% (+10.6% y/y). Finally, eating out was the thing to do during the holidays so restaurant sales rose 0.7% (8.4% y/y). 

The retail sales figure are available in Haver's USECON database. The Action Economics figures are in the AS1REPNA database.

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Retail Spending (%) Dec Nov Oct Dec Y/Y 2011 2010 2009
Total Retail Sales & Food Services 0.1 0.4 0.7 6.5 7.7 6.4 -7.0
  Excluding Autos -0.2 0.3 0.5 6.0 7.3 5.7 -5.5
Retail Sales 0.0 0.4 0.6 6.3 7.9 6.8 -7.8
  Motor Vehicle & Parts 1.5 0.9 1.3 8.8 10.1 9.8 -13.7
 Retail excluding Autos -0.3 0.3 0.5 5.6 7.4 6.1 -6.3
  Gasoline Stations -1.6 0.9 -0.3 8.9 17.5 16.9 -22.2
 Non-Auto Less Gasoline -0.1 0.1 0.6 5.1 5.8 4.5 -3.3
Food Service 0.7 0.6 0.9 8.4 6.0 2.6 -0.5
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