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Economy in Brief

U.S. Retail Sales Disappoint
by Tom Moeller  October 16, 2019

Total retail sales slipped 0.3% (+4.1% y/y) during September following a 0.6% August increase, revised from 0.4%. A 0.2% September gain had been expected in the Action Economics Forecast Survey. Retail sales excluding motor vehicles & parts eased 0.1% (+3.7% y/y) last month after rising 0.2% in August, revised from no change. Expectations had been for a 0.2% improvement.

Online sales weakened slightly. They eased 0.3% (+12.9% y/y) following strong gains earlier this year, starting with a 10.1% jump in January.

Auto sales fell last month by 0.9% (+5.6% y/y) after strengthening 1.9% in August. The decline contrasts with a 0.9% increase (-0.6% y/y) in unit vehicle purchases.

Purchases at building materials & garden equipment stores weakened 1.0% (+0.7% y/y), following strong increases during the prior three months.

Sales at gasoline service station sales fell 0.7% (-2.7% y/y), down for the fourth month in the last five. The decline was accompanied by a 2.6% rise (-7.1% y/y) in the pump price of gasoline to $2.64 per gallon.

A measure of the underlying pace of retail spending is nonauto sales growth excluding gasoline and building materials. These sales held steady last month (4.8% y/y) following a 0.3% rise in August and a 0.8% July gain.

Strengthening last month were apparel store sales which rose 1.3% (1.5% y/y) after falling 0.7% in August. Sales were firm as well at furniture & home furnishings stores. They rose 0.8% (1.1% y/y) following declines in three of the prior four months. Offsetting these gains was a 0.3% decline (+1.3% y/y) in sales at general merchandise stores. It was the third decline in four months. Electronic & appliance store sales were unchanged (-1.9% y/y) after a 0.2% dip. Sales at sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores eased 0.1% (+1.5% y/y), down for the third straight month.

Sales of nondiscretionary items were mixed last month. Food & beverage store sales eased 0.1% (+3.9% y/y) and reversed August's improvement. Health & personal care product store sales increased 0.6% (2.9% y/y) after falling 0.2%.

Restaurant & drinking establishment sales improved 0.2% last month (4.9% y/y) after a 0.1% August uptick which was revised from a moderate decline.

Labor Market Slack Disappeared by 2016 from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas is available here.

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

Retail Spending (% chg) Sep Aug Jul Sep Y/Y 2018 2017 2016
Total Retail Sales & Food Services -0.3 0.6 0.7 4.1 4.9 4.2 3.0
  Excluding Autos -0.1 0.2 0.9 3.7 5.5 4.6 2.6
Retail Sales -0.3 0.6 0.8 4.0 4.7 4.0 2.7
  Motor Vehicle & Parts -0.9 1.9 0.1 5.6 2.6 2.8 4.4
 Retail Less Autos -0.1 0.3 0.9 3.5 5.3 4.4 2.1
  Gasoline Stations -0.7 -1.3 1.7 -2.7 12.9 8.2 -5.7
Food Service & Drinking Places Sales 0.2 0.1 0.7 4.9 6.4 5.5 5.5
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