Retail spending this season so far has been solid—but slightly underwhelming.
Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau released its retail statistics for November 2019, revealing that U.S. retail sales, which totaled $528 billion in November (excluding gas and restaurants), increased less than expected, rising a mere 0.2% from October. Economists had expected to see sales ascend 0.5% or more in November.
That’s still an increase from November 2018—3.3% to be exact. But the so-so stats may have economists revising their fourth quarter forecasts.
The National Retail Federation—which, it should be noted, always provides the sunniest possible outlook for the U.S. retail sector—blames the slowdown on the calendar.
“November showed modest growth on the surface, but you have to remember that the late timing of Thanksgiving delayed the beginning of the busiest portion of the holiday season and pushed Cyber Monday’s billions of dollars of retail sales into December,” said NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz in a prepared statement. “These numbers are more about the calendar than consumer confidence. Consumer spending has been solid, and there’s still a lot of spending to be done. With strong employment and higher wages, we’re on track for a strong holiday season.”
The economy in general is doing quite well: 266,000 jobs were created in November, and the unemployment rate in the U.S. fell back to 3.5%, its lowest level in nearly a half century.
But economists worry that issues including the U.S.-China trade war, political tumult, and a potentially slowing housing market (home price growth will flatten and mortgage rates will increase in 2020, according to Realtor.com’s national forecast) could further constrict spending in the United States in 2020.
The NRF doesn’t specifically break out fine jewelry sales in its data but reported that clothing and clothing accessory stores were down 2.9% year-over-year in November.
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