The U.S. Census Bureau released data yesterday that revealed September’s overall retail sales—including auto dealers, gas stations, and restaurants—were down 0.3% seasonally adjusted from August, but up 4.1% unadjusted year-over-year.
The decline marks the first time U.S. retail sales have fallen since February and could be a sign that consumer confidence is wavering, due to the U.S.-China trade war and concerns about inflation, political upheaval (including President Trump’s possible impeachment), and other factors.
The National Retail Federation did their own math—subtracting retail sales at auto dealers, gas stations, and restaurants from the census bureau’s total—and the picture was only slightly rosier: Combined retail sales for all other consumer categories, including fashion, electronics, and jewelry, were down 0.1%, seasonally adjusted from August, but up 4.5% unadjusted year-over-year in September.
“This morning’s report forces eternal optimists to face the possibility household spending may be moderating along with a decline in fundamentals,” wrote Stifel chief economist Lindsey Piegza in a note to clients yesterday.
National Retail Federation (NRF) chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said in a prepared statement, “The pullback in September compared with August is possibly a reaction to increased fears over U.S.-China tensions. While uncertainty around trade policy and other issues has dampened consumer sentiment recently, consumers still have a lot going for them as evidenced by longer-term trends and factors like the tight labor market.”
He added that September “is a tricky month to measure” due to factors including end-of-summer and back-to-school spending—and this year’s early Labor Day “may have moved up some spending into the last days of August.”
Here are a few September sales statistics the NRF broke out yesterday:
++ Online and other non-store sales were up 15.6% year-over-year but down 0.3% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
++ Health and personal care stores were up 4.2% year-over-year and up 0.6% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
++ Grocery and beverage stores were up 2.6% year-over-year but down 0.1% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
++ Building materials and garden supply stores were up 2.5% year-over-year but down 1% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
++ Furniture and home furnishings stores were up 1.1% year-over-year and up 0.6% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
++ Sporting goods stores were unchanged year-over-year but down 0.1% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
++ General merchandise stores were down 0.2% year-over-year and down 0.3% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
++ Clothing and clothing accessory stores were down 0.7% year-over-year but up 1.3% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
++ Electronics and appliance stores were down 1.7% year-over-year but unchanged month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
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