November Retail Sales Lower Than Expected

Retail sales in November increased only 0.1% seasonally adjusted over October and were up 2.1% unadjusted year-over-year, the National Retail Federation reported. The numbers exclude automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants.

“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 Jack Kleinhenz, NRF chief economist. “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.”

Kleinhenz noted that the year-over-year comparison was challenging because November 2018 was up an unusually strong 4.7% over the year before. But December 2018 was down 0.2% from the year before, making it likely that next month could show a strong comparison.

NRF’s forecast predicts that holiday retail sales during November and December will increase between 3.8% and 4.2% for a total of between $727.9 billion and $730.7 billion.

November’s results build on October’s increase of 0.2% month-over-month and a strong 4.1% year-over-year. As of November, the three-month moving average was up 3.3% over the same period a year ago, compared with 4.2% in October.

NRF’s numbers are based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which said today that overall November sales, including auto dealers, gas stations and restaurants, were up 0.2% seasonally adjusted from October and up 3.3% unadjusted year-over-year.

Specifics from key retail sectors during November include:

  • Online and other non-store sales were up 7.2% year-over-year and up 0.8% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
  • Grocery and beverage stores were up 4% year-over-year and up 0.3% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
  • Furniture and home furnishings stores were up 1.4% year-over-year and up 0.1% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
  • General merchandise stores were unchanged year-over-year but up 0.1% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
  • Electronics and appliance stores were down 1.7% year-over-year but up 0.7% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
  • Health and personal care stores were also down 1.7% year-over-year and were down 1.1% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.