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Economy in Brief

U.S. Retail Sales Decline; Nonauto Sales Hold Steady
by Tom Moeller  February 14, 2018

Many consumers stayed home last month. Total retail sales declined 0.3% during January following no change in December, revised from 0.4% reported initially. November's 0.8% gain was revised from 0.9%. A 0.2% increase had been expected in the Action Economics Forecast Survey. Excluding motor vehicles and parts, retail sales were flat (+4.2% y/y) following a 0.1% rise, revised from 0.4%. It was the weakest monthly change since June. A 0.5% increase had been expected.

Sales of most discretionary items moderated last month. A 1.3% decline (+1.5% y/y) in sales of motor vehicles & parts was the third consecutive monthly shortfall. It compared to a 3.9% decline in unit auto sales reported earlier this month. Purchases of building materials fell 2.4% (+3.6% y/y) after a 0.7% rise. Sporting goods, hobby, book & music store sales weakened 0.8% (-7.1% y/y), off for the third straight month. Sales of nonstore retailers held steady (10.2% y/y) after a 0.5% increase. Furniture & home furnishing store sales also were stable (3.3% y/y) after a 1.5% decline. Rising a modest 0.2% (3.0% y/y) were general merchandise store sales following a 0.3% gain. Showing more improvement were sales at electronics & appliance stores with a 0.5% increase (1.6% y/y), the fifth consecutive month of strength. Clothing & accessory store sales rebounded 1.2% (1.9% y/y) after a 1.2% drop. Gasoline station sales rose 1.6% (9.0% y/y) with higher prices, following a 0.3% gain.

Sales of nondiscretionary items softened last month. Health & personal care store sales fell 1.2% (+0.5% y/y), the third straight monthly shortfall. Food & beverage store sales eased slightly (+3.6% y/y) following a 0.4% rise.

Food service & drinking establishment sales held steady (2.1 y/y) after a 0.9% rise. This performance followed three months of firm gains.

The retail sales data can be found in Haver's USECON database. The Action Economics forecast is in the AS1REPNA database.

Retail Spending (% chg) Jan Dec Nov Jan Y/Y 2017 2016 2015
Total Retail Sales & Food Services -0.3 0.0 0.8 3.6 4.2 3.2 2.6
  Excluding Autos -0.0 0.1 1.2 4.2 4.2 3.0 1.4
  Non-Auto Less Gasoline -0.2 0.1 1.0 3.6 3.6 3.9 4.2
Retail Sales -0.3 -0.1 0.8 3.9 4.4 2.9 1.9
  Motor Vehicle & Parts -1.3 -0.1 -1.0 1.5 4.1 4.1 7.3
 Retail Less Autos -0.0 -0.1 1.4 4.6 4.5 2.5 0.4
  Gasoline Stations 1.6 0.3 3.4 9.0 8.9 -5.7 -17.6
Food Service & Drinking Places Sales 0.0 0.9 0.4 2.1 2.8 5.9 8.1
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