Retail Sales Up in December, Led by Online Activity

By Mark Lieberman

Managing Director and Senior Economist

Highlights:

  • December retail sales – measured by prices – ROSE $1.7 billion or 0.4 percent from November when they were UP $4.2 billion or 0.9 percent (revised from the originally reported 0.8 percent increase);
  • Every category of sales, except electronics, clothing and sporting goods stores saw an increase in December; sales at clothing stores were off 0.3 percent attributable to unseasonably warm temperatures;
  • Gasoline station sales increased 0.03 percent in December even as the price of a gallon of gasoline fell 3.4 percent from $2.564 to $2.477.

Image result for retail sales

Trends:

  • Year-year total sales ROSE 5,2 percent in December, the strongest December-December growth since 2011 when sales were up 6.1 percent;
  • Non-store sales represented 11.2 percent of total sales, a record high;
  • With the Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting a scant 0.1 percent increase in prices in December; the jump in retail sales reflects demand, not price changes;

Data source: Census Bureau  

The Census Bureau’s report on retail sales was good news for the nation’s retailers who saw (or heard) cash registers ringing up stronger sales without reflecting price changes.

{The Census Bureau retail sales report states clearly that it is not adjusted for price changes which means if the same item which sold for $1 in one is sold for $2 the next month, the report would show a 100 percent increase.]

With increases in take-home pay because of the GOP tax changes it would not be unexpected to see retail sales continuing to climb.

But the report came just a day after Walmart announced plans to shutter 63 Sam’s Club discount warehouse stores, adding to a growing list of retailers reducing their brick-and-mortar operations. The Walmart announcement came the same day the retail giant said it was raising the hourly pay of its “associates” and paying bonuses.

The bonus payments accompanied by layoffs is similar to what AT&T did shortly after the tax bill was passed.

In addition to accounting for an increasing share of total sales, non-store retailers also saw a 12.2 percent year-year increase in activity, the strongest of any store category,

Last week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the number of retail jobs fell 20,300 in December from November. The number of retail jobs dropped 66,500 from December 2016 to December 2017.

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

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