NRF: January Sales Down 2.1%

NRF chief economist Rosalind WellsRetail industry sales for January (which exclude automobiles, gas stations, and restaurants) increased 0.5 percent seasonally adjusted from last month and decreased 2.1 percent unadjusted year-over-year, according to the National Retail Federation.

January retail sales released today by the U.S. Commerce Department show total retail sales (which include non-general merchandise categories such as autos, gasoline stations and restaurants) increased 1 percent seasonally adjusted from December but decreased 9 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

“While 2009 got off to a surprising start, it’s going to be difficult for retailers to maintain this momentum,” said NRF chief economist Rosalind Wells.  “We expect the first half of the year to present challenges while giving way to sustained growth in the fourth quarter.”

While seasonal increases were encouraging for retailers, budget-conscious consumers still spent much less this year compared to last January. Electronic and appliance stores sales increased 2.6 percent seasonally adjusted from last month but decreased 7.4 percent unadjusted year-over-year. Sales at clothing and clothing accessories stores increased 1.6 percent seasonally adjusted from December and decreased 8 percent unadjusted over last January. 

As shoppers continued to save more and spend less, they continue to spend on the necessities, NRF said. General merchandise stores sales increased 1.1 percent seasonally adjusted over last month and 3.5 percent unadjusted over last year. Additionally, health and personal care stores sales were flat seasonally adjusted month-to-month and increased 3.5 percent unadjusted year-over-year.