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Economy in Brief

U.S. Retail Sales Rise Unexpectedly in September
by Tom Moeller  October 15, 2021

• Composition of sales is mixed.

• Higher gasoline prices support sales.

• Auto sales increase modestly.

Total retail sales including food service and drinking establishments increased 0.7% (13.9% y/y) during September following a 0.9% August rise, revised from 0.7%. No change in September sales had been expected in the Action Economics Forecast Survey. The 1.6% decline in July sales was revised from -1.8% reported last month. Sales excluding motor vehicles and parts improved 0.8% (15.6% y/y) during September after rising 2.0% in August, revised from 1.8%. A 0.5% increase had been expected.

Sales in the retail control group, which excludes autos, gas stations, building materials and food services, increased 0.8% (11.5% y/y) last month after rising 2.6% in August, revised from 2.5%.

A 3.7% increase (14.2% y/y) in sporting goods, hobby and book store sales led last month's rise in sales overall as it followed five straight months of sharp decline. General merchandise store sales gained 2.0% (13.2% y/y) in September after strengthening 3.4% in August. Within that category, department store sales improved 0.9% (18.9% y/y) following a 2.2% rise. Apparel store sales rose 1.1% (22.4% y/y) last month after a 0.4% rise. Sales via the internet gained 0.6% (10.5% y/y) following a 5.7% rise. Furniture & home furnishings store purchases improved 0.2% (13.4% y/y) after a 1.8% increase. To the downside, sales at electronics & appliance stores weakened 0.9% (+17.2% y/y), down for the fourth month in the last five.

Motor vehicle sales edged up 0.5% (7.8% y/y) in September, after falling sharply for four consecutive months. Parts shortages have constrained the availability of new cars. Unit motor vehicle sales fell 6.1% (-25.0% y/y), the fifth consecutive month of weakness.

Gasoline service station sales rose 1.8% (38.2% y/y) following a 1.0% August increase, revised from 0.2%. The gain accompanied a 0.1% rise in gasoline prices (seasonally adjusted by Haver) which followed four consecutive months of strong increase. Building materials & garden equipment sales edged 0.1% higher last month (5.8% y/y) after a 1.1% August gain. That followed four straight months of sharp decline.

In the nondiscretionary sales categories, grocery & beverage store sales increased 0.7% last month (7.0% y/y) after rising 2.2% in August. Health & personal care store sales declined 1.4% (+6.8% y/y) after a 0.2% August improvement.

Sales at restaurants & drinking establishments rose 0.3% in September (29.5% y/y) following a 0.2% August rise. These gains followed five straight months of strong increase.

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

What Might Inflation Look Like Next Year? from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas is available here.

Retail Spending (% chg) Sep Aug Jul Sep Y/Y 2020 2019 2018
Total Retail Sales & Food Services 0.7 0.9 -1.6 13.9 0.3 3.3 4.4
  Excluding Autos 0.8 2.0 -0.9 15.6 0.3 3.4 5.1
Retail Sales 0.8 1.0 -2.0 12.2 3.1 3.0 4.2
 Retail Less Autos 0.9 2.3 -1.3 13.5 4.0 3.0 5.0
  Motor Vehicle & Parts 0.5 -3.3 -4.3 7.8 0.2 2.9 1.4
  Food & Beverage Stores  0.7 2.2 -0.6 7.0 11.4 3.1 2.9
  Gasoline Service Stations 1.8 1.0 2.4 38.2 -15.8 -1.7 9.2
Food Service & Drinking Places 0.3 0.2 1.5 29.5 -19.5 5.6 5.7
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