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Economy in Brief

U.S. Retail Sales Show Widespread Improvement
by Tom Moeller  December 11, 2015

Consumers began to open their wallets in advance of the holiday season. Purchases at retail stores and restaurants increased 0.2% during November following little change in the prior three months, which were unrevised. The latest increase fell short of expectations for a 0.3% rise in the Action Economics Forecast Survey. Sales excluding autos gained a firmer 0.4% and also made up for weakness in the prior four months. A 0.3% gain was expected. During the last ten years, there has been a 92% correlation between the change in retail sales and the change in real GDP.

Sales in the retail control group increased 0.6%, the largest rise since July. These purchases do not include autos, gasoline, building materials and food services and align with the consumer spending estimates in the GDP accounts.

Light motor vehicle sales fell 0.4%, down for the second straight month. The decline compares to a 0.3% drop in unit motor vehicle sales. Falling prices continued to lower sales at gasoline service stations where a 0.8% decline was the fifth in as many months.

Sales in other discretionary categories were firm. Apparel store sales increased 0.8% (-1.6% y/y) following three months of decline. Sales at sporting goods, hobby, book & music stores also jumped 0.8% (5.0% y/y) after a 0.1% uptick. Restaurant sales increased 0.7% (5.4% y/y), the strongest rise since April. General merchandise store sales grew gained 0.7% (1.4% y/y) after a 0.1% dip and purchases at electronics & appliance stores rose 0.6% (-1.8% y/y), also following a 0.1% dip. Nonstore retailers sales increased 0.6% (10.3% y/y) after a 1.4% spurt. Holding back the total's rise was a 0.3% decline in sales (+4.9% y/y) at furniture & home furnishing store sales, but it was the first decline in three months. Also down 0.3% (+4.1% y/y) were sales at building materials & garden supply stores, off for the third month in the last four.

In the nondiscretionary sales categories, food & beverage store sales increased 0.7% (0.8% y/y) following two months of decline. Sales at health & personal care stores were little-changed (+4.6% y/y), following a 0.5% rise.

The retail sales figures are available in Haver's USECON database. The Action Economics figures are in the AS1REPNA database.

Do We Know What We Owe? Consumer Debt as Reported By Borrowers and Lenders from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York is available here.

Retail Spending (%) Nov Oct Sep Nov Y/Y 2014 2013 2012
Total Retail Sales & Food Services 0.2 0.1 -0.1 1.5 3.9 3.7 5.0
  Excluding Autos 0.4 0.1 -0.5 0.9 3.1 2.7 4.1
  Non-Auto Less Gasoline, Building Supplies & Food Services 0.6 0.2 0.0 2.9 3.3 2.7 3.6
Retail Sales 0.2 0.0 -0.1 1.0 3.7 3.8 4.9
  Motor Vehicle & Parts -0.4 -0.3 1.4 4.3 7.5 8.3 9.0
 Retail Less Autos 0.3 0.1 -0.6 0.1 2.6 2.6 3.9
  Gasoline Stations -0.8 -1.0 -4.8 -19.7 -2.7 -0.7 4.3
Food Service & Drinking Places Sales 0.7 0.3 0.5 5.4 6.2 3.4 5.9
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