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Economy in Brief

U.S. Retail Sales Strength Exceeds Expectations in January
by Tom Moeller  February 16, 2022

• Omicron disruptions ease.

• Vehicle sales strengthen.

• Online sales surge.

Consumers' appetite for spending, lost at yearend, revived in January. Total retail sales including food service and drinking establishments strengthened 3.8% (13.0% y/y) last month following a 2.5% December shortfall, revised from -1.9%. A 2.0% increase in January sales had been expected in the Action Economics Forecast Survey. Sales excluding motor vehicles and parts increased 3.3% in January (13.4% y/y) following a 2.8% December decline, revised from -2.3%. Expectations had been for a 1.0% increase.

Sales in the retail control group, which excludes autos, gas stations, building materials and food services, strengthened 4.8% last month (8.9% y/y) following a 4.0% December decline, revised from -3.1%.

Motor vehicle sales surged 5.7% (11.3% y/y) in January after weakening 1.6% during December. Unit motor vehicle sales increased 19.3% last month (-10.0% y/y) after falling 3.1% in December.

The increase in retail purchases via the internet led last month's resurgence in overall sales with a 14.5% (8.4% y/y) strengthening. That more than made up December's 11.4% decline. Furniture & home furnishing store sales posted a strong a 7.2% (2.7% y/y) increase in January after a 7.4% December decline. Electronics & appliance store sales rose 1.9% (-2.9% y/y) after falling for two consecutive months. General merchandise store sales strengthened 3.6% last month (7.6% y/y), also following two consecutive months of decline. Within that category, department store sales strengthened 9.2% (11.5% y/y) after falling 7.0% in December. Apparel & accessory store sales improved 0.7% last month (21.9% y/y) after December's 3.4% shortfall. To the downside, sporting goods, hobby and book store sales weakened 3.0% (+1.3% y/y) last month after a 6.0% December falloff.

Gasoline service station sales fell 1.3% (+33.4% y/y) in January following a 0.4% December rise. The January sales decline reflected a 2.9% increase in gasoline prices (seasonally adjusted by Haver) which followed a 1.8% December decline. Building materials & garden equipment sales rose 4.1% last month (12.2% y/y) after three months of strong increase.

In the nondiscretionary sales categories, food & beverage store sales rose 1.1% (8.0% y/y) during January after easing 0.2% in December. Health & personal care store sales fell 0.7% (+7.6% y/y) after improving 0.3% in December.

Sales at restaurants & drinking establishments fell 0.9% in January (+27.0% y/y), off modestly for the third month in the last four.

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

The minutes to the latest FOMC meeting can be found here.

Retail Spending (% chg) Jan Dec Nov Jan Y/Y 2021 2020 2019
Total Retail Sales & Food Services 3.8 -2.5 0.7 13.0 19.4 0.2 3.3
  Excluding Autos 3.3 -2.8 0.7 13.4 18.4 0.3 3.4
Retail Sales 4.4 -2.8 0.7 11.4 18.1 3.1 3.0
 Retail Less Autos 4.0 -3.1 0.8 11.5 16.6 3.9 3.0
  Motor Vehicle & Parts 5.7 -1.6 0.7 11.3 23.3 0.2 2.9
  Food & Beverage Stores  1.1 -0.2 0.5 8.0 4.5 11.5 3.1
  Gasoline Service Stations -1.3 0.4 1.9 33.4 36.1 -16.0 -1.7
Food Service & Drinking Places -0.9 -0.6 0.5 27.0 31.5 -19.6 5.6
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