Retail Sales Expand Modestly in August

By Mark Lieberman

Managing Director and Senior Economist

Highlights:

  • August retail sales ROSE a modest 0.6 percent or $2.97 billion after increasing a whopping $41.7 billion or 8.6 percent in July;
  • Restaurant and clothing store sales led the charge up, growing at 4.7 percent and 2.9 percent respectively;
  • Gasoline station sales ROSE 0.4 percent, despite a slight dip (less than 1ȼ) in the average price of a gallon of gas;
  • August sales at non-store retailers (online) were flat to July but represented 15.5 percent of total retail;
  • The increase in retail activity came in the same month in which the Consumer Price Index ROSE 0.4 percent month-month;
  • Retail sales were UP 2.4 percent CPI rose 1.3 percent in the same period.

Trends:

  • Sales rose in all but two retail categories: sporting good stores and food and beverage stores;
  • BLS reported the number of retail jobs ROSE 248,900 in August and food service jobs ROSE 1.4 percent or 134,000;

Data source: Census Bureau

Retail Sales - Clipboard image

Retail sales, a key barometer of the nation’s economy, rose a slight 0.6 percent in August suggesting the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic will remain slow.

With the loosening of stay-at-home restriction, consumers scaled back slightly on online shopping which remained at 15.5 percent of total retail activity. In February, the last pre-pandemic month, online retailers accounted for 13.1 percent of retail sales. Non-store retail activity jumped to 19.2 percent of all sales in April.

The monthly Census Bureau report tracks retail activity from month-to-month without any adjustment for price changes which mean an increase prices will show up as an increase in sales even if there no change in goods sold.

That shoppers were willing to go back to stores was apparent in gasoline station sales which rose despite a slight dip in gasoline prices, suggesting higher usage.

Retail sales also continued to track home sales which rose a staggering 24.7 percent in July, with sales rising at furniture stores and building material/garden supply stores. The record increase in existing homer sales was a “catch-up following a plunge in home-sale activity in April and May. from March to May existing home sales fell almost 26 percent.

You can follow Mark Lieberman on Twitter at @foxeconomics.  

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