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Economy in Brief

U.S. Retail Sales Slow with Lower Auto Sales; Other Spending Firms
by Carol Stone, CBE  February 15, 2017

Total retail sales and spending at restaurants increased 0.4% (4.9% y/y) in January following a 1.0% December rise, which was revised from 0.6%. A more modest 0.1% increase had been expected in the Action Economics Forecast Survey.

Sales at motor vehicles & parts dealers accounted for the January slowdown in the total; these fell 1.4% (5.8% y/y), after their sizable 3.2% gain in December. The decline compared to a 4.4% decrease in unit sales of light vehicles. Excluding autos, retail sales increased 0.8% (4.7% y/y). clearly more than December's a 0.4% rise. A 0.4% increase had been expected. Sales at gasoline service stations again lifted retail spending last month, as they went up 2.3% (13.9% y/y); December's gas stations sales increase was revised from 2.0% to 3.2%. In the CPI array for January, gasoline prices are seen to have risen 7.8% in the month. Retail sales excluding both auto dealers & gas stations rose 0.7% (3.8% y/y) in January following a 0.1% rise.

In other discretionary spending categories, furniture store sales were flat in January (-0.3% y/y) after a 0.9% fall in December. In contrast, several other store groups had January gains after a slow December; electronics & appliance store sales rebounded 1.6% (-1.7% y/y) from December's 1.7% decline. Clothing store sales gained 1.0% (0.4% y/y) after December's slim 0.1% rise. General merchandise store sales advanced 0.9% (-1.4% y/y) following a 0.4% decrease. Sporting goods store sales gained 1.8% (-3.7% y/y) after easing 0.2% in December.

In the non-discretionary spending categories, health & personal care store sales increased 0.7% (9.4% y/y) in January, similar to December's 0.6% rise. Food & beverage store sales rose 0.4% (+0.4% y/y) following a slippage of 0.2%.

Nonstore retailers had flat sales in January (14.5% y/y), but that followed a 1.9% gain in December.

Sales at food service & drinking places advanced 1.4% (3.4% y/y), following December's 1.1% decline.

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

Retail Spending (%) Jan Dec Nov Jan Y/Y 2016 2015 2014
Total Retail Sales & Food Services 0.4 1.0 0.2 4.9 3.3 2.3 4.2
  Excluding Autos 0.8 0.4 0.3 4.7 3.1 1.2 3.7
  Non-Auto Less Gasoline 0.7 0.1 0.3 3.8 4.2 4.2 4.6
Retail Sales 0.2 1.2 0.0 5.1 2.9 1.6 4.0
  Motor Vehicle & Parts -1.4 3.2 -0.3 5.8 3.9 6.5 6.5
 Retail Less Autos 0.7 0.6 0.1 4.9 2.6 0.2 3.3
  Gasoline Stations 2.3 3.2 0.0 13.9 -6.2 -19.2 -2.3
Food Service & Drinking Places Sales 1.4 -1.1 1.2 3.4 5.9 8.1 6.1
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