Retail Sales UP in July for Fifth Straight Month

By Mark Lieberman

Managing Director and Senior Economist

Highlights:

  • Retail sales (measured by prices) ROSE a solid 0.7 percent or $3.7 billion in July more than doubling June’s downwardly revised 3.0 percent (from 4.0 percent) gain;
  • Non-store retail (online) sales GREW $1.8 billion or 2.8 percent and accounted for 12.8 percent of all retail activity, up from 12.2 percent a year ago;
  • Gasoline stations INCREASED $754 million or 1.8 percent as gasoline prices ROSE 0.9 percent from June to July;
  • Auto sales FELL $602 million or 0.6 percent in July;
  • Other than autos, the only store categories to show declines in sales were health and personal care which FELL $56 million or 0.2 percent and sporting goods stores at which sales FELL $75 million or 1.1 percent from June;
  • All retail activity was up 3.4 percent year-year in July – matching June — while the Consumer Price Index rose 1.8 percent from July 2018 to July 2019.

Trends:

  • Total retail sales have increased for five 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 July and have fallen for six straight months; The number of retail jobs fell in June to the lowest level since January 2016;

Data source: Census Bureau

Image result for retail sales

Don’t mistake the jump in retail sales as a sign reports of a coming recession might be overblown. The monthly Census Bureau report, which 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.

Clearly retailers are continuing to struggle with the Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting a sixth straight monthly decline in retail jobs as they struggle to maintain profit margins strained by the higher wholesale prices due to tariffs.

Most recently, the President said he would delay imposing a new 10 percent tariff on Chinese consumer goods with signs U.S. consumers are footing the bill for the tariffs despite the President’s insistence to the contrary.

The administration said last week it would postpone until December 15 penalties on about 60% of Chinese goods which were supposed to be subject to the higher tariffs September 1. Tariffs were delayed on mobile phones, laptops, video game consoles, some toys, computer monitors, shoes and clothing.

In June, falling gasoline prices gave consumers some extra spending cash but that was not the case in July as gasoline pump prices rose in lockstep with crude oil prices.

The pressures on consumer wallets could be exacerbated by the report real average hourly earnings – earnings adjusted for inflation – fell 0.1 percent in July after growing 0.3 percent in June.

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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