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Economy in Brief

U.S. Retail Sales Rebound
by Tom Moeller  November 15, 2019

Total retail sales increased 0.3% (3.1% y/y) during October following an unrevised 0.3% September decline. A 0.2% October gain had been expected in the Action Economics Forecast Survey. Retail sales excluding motor vehicles & parts rose 0.2% (2.8% y/y) last month after slipping 0.1% in September. Expectations had been for a 0.4% improvement. During the third quarter of this year, consumer spending on goods accounted for 1.1 percentage points of the 1.9% gain in real GDP.

Showing strength, a 0.9% increase in online sales last month (14.3% y/y) was an improvement versus September's 0.2% rise. Nevertheless, it was well below the 1.4% increases during each of the prior two months and below the even stronger monthly gains earlier in the year.

Sales of motor vehicles and parts rose 0.5% (4.5% y/y) following a 1.3% September decline. These results compare to a 3.8% decline in unit vehicle sales in October and a 0.9% September rise. Gasoline & service station sales jumped 1.1% (-5.0% y/y) with higher prices following a 0.1% easing.

General merchandise store sales increased 0.4% and followed declines in three of the prior four months. Sales during the last 12 months grew 0.9% versus 6.2% y/y growth in May 2018. Department store sales edged 0.1% higher last month but declined 6.9% y/y.

Declines in sales were logged elsewhere in the retail trade sector. Apparel & accessory store sales weakened 1.0% (-2.7% y/y) after a 0.3% September improvement. Sales at sporting goods, hobby, book & music stores fell 0.8% (+0.2% y/y), the fourth consecutive monthly decline. Sales of furniture & home furnishings were off 0.7% (-1.0% y/y) following a 0.4% rise. Sales of building materials and garden equipment weakened 0.5% (-2.0% y/y) after a 1.8% drop. Electronics & appliance store sales fell 0.4% (-3.4% y/y), the second decline in three months.

Sales of nondiscretionary items were mixed last month. Food & beverage store sales rose 0.5% (3.2% y/y) following a 0.6% September decline. Holding steady were sales at health & personal care stores following a 0.6% rise. The 12-month sales increase also weakened to 1.9% from 6.7% late in 2017.

Restaurant & drinking establishment sales fell 0.3% (+4.7% y/y) following a 0.8% rise.

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

Retail Spending (% chg) Oct Sep Aug Oct Y/Y 2018 2017 2016
Total Retail Sales & Food Services 0.3 -0.3 0.6 3.1 4.9 4.2 3.0
  Excluding Autos 0.2 -0.1 0.2 2.8 5.5 4.6 2.6
Retail Sales 0.3 -0.5 0.6 2.9 4.7 4.0 2.7
 Retail Less Autos 0.3 -0.2 0.2 2.4 5.3 4.4 2.1
  Motor Vehicle & Parts 0.5 -1.3 2.0 4.5 2.6 2.8 4.4
  Gasoline Stations 1.1 -0.1 -1.2 -5.0 12.9 8.2 -5.7
Food Service & Drinking Places Sales -0.3 0.8 0.0 4.7 6.4 5.5 5.5
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