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Economy in Brief

U.S. Retail Sales Rise as Online Sales Jump
by Tom Moeller  September 13, 2019

Consumer spending remains on a positive track. Total retail sales rose 0.4% (4.1% y/y) during August following a 0.8% July gain, revised from a 0.7%. June's increase was revised to 0.4% from 0.3%. A 0.2% August gain had been expected in the Action Economics Forecast Survey. Retail sales excluding motor vehicles & parts held steady last month (3.5% y/y) after surging an unrevised 1.0% in July. June's 0.3% rise was revised from 0.4%. Expectations had been for a 0.1% uptick.

Online sales jumped again. Sales via the internet strengthened 1.6% (16.0% y/y). The rise followed a 1.7% July increase and even larger gains during the prior two months.

Auto sales also were strong last month. They posted a 1.8% increase (6.8% y/y) after a 0.1% uptick. Last month's strength stemmed from a 1.1% m/m rise in unit sales of motor vehicles.

Purchases at building materials & garden equipment stores rounded out last month's strength with a 1.4% increase (1.0% y/y) which came after a 1.0% rise.

Offsetting these increases was a 0.9% decline (-2.3% y/y) in gasoline service station sales which followed a 1.4% gain. Last month's shortfall reflected a decline in the pump price of gasoline to $2.57 per gallon from $2.72.

A measure of the underlying pace of retail spending is nonauto sales growth excluding gasoline and building materials. These sales rose 0.3% (5.3% y/y) last month. That followed a 0.9% gain in July and a 0.5% June increase.

Offsetting these gains was a 0.5% decline (+0.1% y/y) in sales at furniture & home furnishings stores. It was the third decline in four months. Purchases at apparel & accessory stores were off 0.9% (+0.4% y/y) after a 1.3% rise. Also weak were sales at general merchandise store sales which declined 0.3% (+1.0% y/y) after a 0.7% gain. To the upside were sales at sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores as they improved 0.9% (2.1% y/y) and came after a 1.2% decline.

Sales of nondiscretionary items were mixed last month. Food & beverage store sales eased 0.2% (+4.3% y/y) after a 1.4% rise. Health & personal care product store sales increased 0.7% (3.7% y/y) after easing 0.1% in July.

Restaurant & drinking establishment sales declined 1.2% last month (+1.1% y/y) after six consecutive months of strong gain.

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

Retail Spending (% chg) Aug Jul Jun Aug Y/Y 2018 2017 2016
Total Retail Sales & Food Services 0.4 0.8 0.4 4.1 4.9 4.2 3.0
  Excluding Autos 0.0 1.0 0.3 3.5 5.5 4.6 2.6
Retail Sales 0.6 0.8 0.3 4.6 4.7 4.0 2.7
  Motor Vehicle & Parts 1.8 0.1 0.7 6.8 2.6 2.8 4.4
 Retail Less Autos 0.2 1.0 0.2 3.9 5.3 4.4 2.1
  Gasoline Stations -0.9 1.4 -2.5 -2.3 12.9 8.2 -5.7
Food Service & Drinking Places Sales -1.2 0.6 0.8 1.1 6.4 5.5 5.5
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