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Economy in Brief

U.S. Retail Sales Moderate as Non-Auto Spending Tapers
by Carol Stone, CBE  March 15, 2017

Total retail sales and spending at restaurants rose 0.1% (5.7% y/y) in February following a 0.6% increase in January, which was revised up from 0.4%. The February result was in line with the 0.1% increase expected in the Action Economics Forecast Survey.

Sales at motor vehicles & parts dealers decreased again in February, by 0.2% (5.6% y/y), following January's 1.3% decline. This corresponded to a similar February decrease of 0.2% in unit sales of light vehicles. Excluding autos, retail sales rose 0.2% (5.7% y/y) after January's 1.2% gain; this latest result was also in line with the Action Economics consensus forecast. Sales at gasoline service stations fell, along with gasoline prices; sales were down 0.6% (19.6% y/y) as the February CPI for gasoline dropped 3.0%. Those sales had risen 2.1% in January. Retail sales excluding both auto dealers & gas stations were up 0.2% (4.2% y/y) in February following a 1.0% January rise.

In nonauto discretionary spending categories, furniture store sales rose 0.7% (4.9% y/y) after January's 2.4% increase. Several other store groups that had had January gains after a slow December turned slower again or had outright declines in February; electronics & appliance store sales, which had rebounded from a 1.1% fall in December to a 1.1% gain in January, then dropped 2.8% (-6.0% y/y) in February. Clothing store sales fell in February by 0.5% (1.6% y/y) after a January rise of 1.2%. General merchandise store sales were down 0.2% (1.5% y/y) following a 1.5% increase. Sporting goods store sales were off 0.4% (-3.6% y/y) after January's 1.4% rise.

In the non-discretionary spending categories, health & personal care store sales increased 0.7% (7.0% y/y) in January, just a bit slower than January's 0.9% rise. Food & beverage store sales were flat in February (2.2% y/y) after January's 0.4% rise.

Nonstore retailers' sales were up 1.2% (13.0% y/y), following January's 0.5% increase. These include online shopping and mail order outlets; they represent about 10.5% of total retail sales.

Sales at food service & drinking places eased 0.1% in February (3.7% y/y) after January's sizable 1.7% advance.

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 (%) Feb Jan Dec Feb Y/Y 2016 2015 2014
Total Retail Sales & Food Services 0.1 0.6 1.0 5.7 3.3 2.3 4.2
  Excluding Autos 0.2 1.2 0.4 5.7 3.1 1.2 3.7
  Non-Auto Less Gasoline 0.2 1.0 0.3 4.2 4.2 4.2 4.6
Retail Sales 0.1 0.5 1.3 5.9 2.9 1.6 4.0
  Motor Vehicle & Parts -0.2 -1.3 3.1 5.6 3.9 6.5 6.5
 Retail Less Autos 0.2 1.1 0.7 6.0 2.6 0.2 3.3
  Gasoline Stations -0.6 2.1 3.0 19.6 -6.2 -19.2 -2.3
Food Service & Drinking Places Sales -0.1 1.7 -1.0 3.7 5.9 8.1 6.1
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