Retail Sales UP in August for Sixth Straight Month

By Mark Lieberman

Managing Director and Senior Economist

Highlights:

  • Retail sales (measured by prices) ROSE a 0.4 percent or $1.9 billion in August, about half of July’s upwardly revised 0.9 percent gain;
  • Non-store retail (online) sales led all retail sectors and GREW $1.1 billion or 1.6 percent;
  • Non-store retailers accounted for 12.8 percent of all retail activity in August, up from 12.7 percent in July and 12.2 percent a year ago;
  • Gasoline stations FELL $405 million or 0.9 percent as gasoline prices FELL 4.3 percent from July to August;
  • Auto sales ROSE $1.82 billion or 1.8 percent in August;
  • Excluding autos, retail activity was up a modest $63 million or .02 percent in August;
  • Other than gasoline stations, restaurants, clothing stores, food and beverage stores and appliance stores showed a dip in sales from July to August;
  • Beyond auto and non-store retailers, retail activity rose at building material and garden supply stores, sporting goods stores and health and personal care stores;
  • All retail activity was up 4.1 percent year-year in August – compared with 3.6 percent in July — while the Consumer Price Index rose 1.7 percent from August 2018 to August 2019.

Trends:

  • Total retail sales have increased for six straight months, the longest stretch since 2017 when sales were up for seven straight months from June through December;
  • BLS reported the number of retail jobs FELL in August and have fallen for seven straight months; The number of retail jobs fell in August to the lowest level since January 2016.

Data source: Census Bureau

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Tariff-fueled retail sales rose again in August offering a somewhat cloudy picture of the economy.

The Census Bureau’s monthly report is not adjusted for price changes, is more a gauge of prices, many of which have been rising as a result of the imposition of tariffs on Chinese and other imported goods. The next round of tariff hikes is due in December according to the Trump Administration.

One element helping sales is the drop in gasoline prices which has enabled consumers to withstand the higher prices resulting from the higher tariffs. The price of a gallon of gasoline fell 11.9¢ per gallon in August and is down 7.6 percent in the last year.

Sales at both furniture stores and electronics/appliance stores have both remained sluggish reflecting a weaker home sales market.

Hear Mark Lieberman 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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