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Economy in Brief

U.S. Retail Sales Strengthen in October
by Tom Moeller  November 16, 2021

• Online sales surge.

• Gasoline sales strengthen with higher prices.

• Auto sales improve.

Total retail sales including food service and drinking establishments increased 1.7% during October (16.3% y/y) after September's 0.8% gain, revised from 0.7%. A 1.1% rise in October sales had been expected in the Action Economics Forecast Survey. The gain in August sales was revised to 1.2% from 0.9% reported last month. Sales excluding motor vehicles and parts also rose 1.7% in October (17.6% y/y) following a 0.7% September gain, revised from 0.8%. A 0.7% increase had been expected. The gain in nonauto sales in August was revised to 2.2% from 2.0%.

Sales in the retail control group, which excludes autos, gas stations, building materials and food services, increased 1.6% last month (12.9% y/y) following a 0.5% September rise, revised from 0.8%

Motor vehicle sales increased 1.8% (11.5% y/y) in October after a 1.2% September increase. Unit motor vehicle sales increased 6.0% last month (-20.2% y/y) after five straight months of decline.

Retail purchases via the internet surged 4.0% (10.2% y/y) last month following a 0.8% dip. Electronics & appliance store sales strengthened 3.8% in October (18.4% y/y) after falling in each of the prior three months. Sporting goods, hobby and book store sales also were strong as a 1.5% rise (17.6% y/y) added to a 4.5% September increase. General merchandise store sales improved 0.8% last month (15.9% y/y) after strong gains in three of the prior four months. Within that category, department store sales improved 2.2% (27.6% y/y) following a 1.0% rise. Furniture & home furnishing store sales rose 0.4% in October (11.9% y/y) after falling 1.1% in September. To the downside, apparel store sales fell 0.7% last month (+25.8% y/y) after a 2.1% rise.

Gasoline service station sales surged 3.9% (46.8% y/y) following a 3.2% September increase as gas prices rose. The gain accompanied an 8.9% surge in gasoline prices (seasonally adjusted by Haver) which followed strong gains in the four of the prior five months. Building materials & garden equipment sales rose 2.8% last month (10.2% y/y) after a 0.2% September uptick, which followed four straight months of sharp decline.

In the nondiscretionary sales categories, grocery & beverage store sales increased 0.9% during October (8.3% y/y) after rising 0.2% in September. Health & personal care store sales declined 0.6% (+7.4% y/y) after falling 1.0% in September.

Sales at restaurants & drinking establishments held steady last month (29.3% y/y) after a 0.4% September rise and no change in August.

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 2020 2019 2018
Total Retail Sales & Food Services 1.7 0.8 1.2 16.3 0.3 3.3 4.4
  Excluding Autos 1.7 0.7 2.2 17.6 0.3 3.4 5.1
Retail Sales 1.9 0.9 1.3 14.8 3.1 3.0 4.2
 Retail Less Autos 2.0 0.8 2.5 15.8 3.9 3.0 5.0
  Motor Vehicle & Parts 1.8 1.2 -2.7 11.5 0.2 2.9 1.4
  Food & Beverage Stores  0.9 0.2 2.2 8.3 11.4 3.1 2.9
  Gasoline Service Stations 3.9 3.2 1.7 46.8 -15.9 -1.7 9.2
Food Service & Drinking Places 0.0 0.4 0.0 29.3 -19.6 5.6 5.7
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