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Economy in Brief

U.S. Retail Sales Unexpectedly Tumble at Yearend
by Tom Moeller  January 14, 2022

• Emergence of Omicron dampens demand & disrupts supply.

• Vehicle sales & gasoline sales ease.

• Online sales plummet.

Total retail sales including food service and drinking establishments declined 1.9% (+16.9% y/y) during December following a 0.2% November increase, revised from 0.3%. No change in December sales had been expected in the Action Economics Forecast Survey. During all of last year, retail sales rose 19.4%. October sales rose an unrevised 1.8%. Sales excluding motor vehicles and parts fell 2.3% in December (+18.8% y/y) following a 0.1% November uptick, revised from 0.3%. A 0.2% increase had been expected. During all of last year, nonauto sales increased 18.4%. October's 1.8% increase was unrevised.

Sales in the retail control group, which excludes autos, gas stations, building materials and food services, fell 3.1% last month (+12.9% y/y) following a 0.5% November decline, revised from -0.1%.

Motor vehicle sales fell 0.4% (+10.2% y/y) in December after a 0.2% November increase. Unit motor vehicle sales increased declined 3.1% last month (-22.9% y/y) after weakening 0.8% in November.

Retail purchases via the internet plummeted 8.7% (+10.7% y/y) last month following a 1.5% decline. Furniture & home furnishing store sales weakened 5.5% in December (+11.1% y/y) after rising 0.5% in November. Electronics & appliance store sales declined 2.9% (+14.6% y/y) after falling 9.7% in the prior month. Sporting goods, hobby and book store sales weakened 4.3% (+18.1% y/y) after a 2.1% increase. Apparel store sales declined 3.1% last month (+29.5% y/y) after three months of firm gain. General merchandise store sales fell 1.5% last month (+14.6% y/y) and added to the prior month's 1.2% fall. Within that category, department store sales weakened 7.0% (+22.5% y/y) after falling 5.5% in November.

Gasoline service station sales eased 0.7% (+41.0% y/y) following a 2.2% November increase. December's sales decline reflected a 1.8% drop in gasoline prices (seasonally adjusted by Haver) which followed a 3.3% increase. Building materials & garden equipment sales rose 0.9% last month (12.5% y/y) after two months of strong increase.

In the nondiscretionary sales categories, food & beverage store sales eased 0.5% during December (+8.4% y/y) and reversed the November increase. Health & personal care store sales rose 0.5% (8.4% y/y) after rising 0.9%.

Sales at restaurants & drinking establishments fell 0.8% last month (+41.3% y/y) after a 0.6% November increase. 

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

Retail Spending (% chg) Dec Nov Oct Dec Y/Y 2021 2020 2019
Total Retail Sales & Food Services -1.9 0.2 1.8 16.9 19.4 0.2 3.3
  Excluding Autos -2.3 0.1 1.8 18.8 18.4 0.2 3.4
Retail Sales -2.1 0.1 2.0 14.4 18.1 3.1 3.0
 Retail Less Autos -2.5 0.1 2.1 15.7 16.5 3.9 3.0
  Motor Vehicle & Parts -0.4 0.2 1.7 10.2 23.5 0.2 2.9
  Food & Beverage Stores  -0.5 0.4 1.0 8.4 4.4 11.5 3.1
  Gasoline Service Stations -0.7 2.2 3.5 41.0 36.0 -16.0 -1.7
Food Service & Drinking Places -0.8 0.6 -0.1 41.3 31.4 -19.6 5.6
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