Retail Sales Showed Slight Gain in January

By Mark Lieberman

Managing Director and Senior Economist


  • January retail sales ROSE a scant 0.2 percent or $1.06 billion after falling $8.2 billion or 1.6 percent in December;
  • The revised December drop was more than the $6.4 billion, 1.2 percent decline originally by the Commerce Department;
  • Sales at furniture and appliance stores DECLINED, consistent with slower home sales;
  • Gasoline station sales were DOWN as the price of gasoline dropped;
  • Sales at non-store retailers (online) ROSE 2.6 percent after falling 5.0 percent in December; sales at non-store retailers remained at 10.9 percent of total sales;
  • The increase in retail activity came in the same month in which the Consumer Price Index was unchanged month-month;
  • Retail activity was up 2.3 percent year-year while CPI rose 1.6 percent.


  • Year-year total sales ROSE 2.3 percent in January, compared with a 1.8 percent year-year growth in December; CPI inflation January to January was 1.6 percent;
  • BLS also reported the number of retail jobs rose 13,700 in January, an increase of 0.9 percent from December;

Data source: Census Bureau

Image result for retail sales

Retail sales got back on trac in January after a dismal December which saw sales plunge. The data for January though show retailers are still struggling as other aspects of the economy appear to be contracting.

The most obvious is the impact slower home sales is having on furniture and appliance stores. Not only did sales at those stores fall in January, but in the last year, sales at furniture stores are off 2.7 percent and sales at electronics and appliance stores are down 3.3 percent.

Meanwhile, as the per gallon of gasoline fell 12.1¢ in January (5.1 percent), sales at gasoline stations fell 2.0 percent suggesting motorists are taking advantage of the lower prices by increasing their driving.

That retail activity increased more rapidly than Consumer Price Index prices reflects the improvement in earnings as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in its Employment Situation release. Even as sales fell at furniture stores, the number of retail jobs at such stores rose from January 2018 to January 2019. Employment at electronics and appliance stores however declined in the same period as sale dropped.

Hear Mark Lieberman tomorrow (and every Friday) on the Morning Briefing on P.O.T.U.S. radio @sxmpotus, Sirius-XM 124, at 6:20 am Eastern Time. You can follow him on Twitter at @foxeconomics.  

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