Retail sales rebound in January, but December gets a downward revision

A month after the biggest decline in 10 years, U.S. retail came back slightly in January, with home centers and online leading the way.

Retail sales increased 1.3% in January seasonally adjusted from December and 3.6% unadjusted year-over-year, according to the National Retail Federation. NRF’s numbers are based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which said that overall January sales – including auto dealers, gas stations and restaurants – were up 0.2% seasonally adjusted from December and up 2.3% unadjusted year-over-year. The NRF numbers exclude automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants.

“Retail sales recovered in January after the unexpected drop in December, reinforcing a positive start to 2019,” stated NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz. “American consumers regained confidence as concerns over the government shutdown and stock market volatility faded and trade talks moved in a positive direction. Although some hesitancy is still lingering, it is good to see consumer spending showing traction given the concerns on the minds of American families last month. We expect higher wages and low unemployment to continue to promote consumer confidence in the year ahead.”

The January numbers follow an unexpected revised 0.1% drop in December year-over-year. November – the first half of the holiday season – grew 5.1% unadjusted year-over-year. (NRF does not count October as part of the holiday season, but much holiday shopping has shifted earlier, and October was up 5.7% year-over-year.”

“Retail sales in December were revised even lower, but these figures remain suspect given the reporting delays caused by the government shutdown,” Kleinhenz added. “The January rebound further calls into question the accuracy and reliability of the December data. The processing of the delayed data is still unclear, and the volatility of the figures reported is difficult to explain at this point.”

NRF forecasts that 2019 retail sales will grow between 3.8% and 4.4% to more than $3.8 trillion. The forecast will be monitored and subject to revision as more data is released in the coming months.

Specifics from key retail sectors during January include:

• Building materials and garden supply stores were up 10.4% year-over-year and up 3.3% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.

• Online and other non-store sales were up 6.3% year-over-year and up 2.6% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.

• Grocery and beverage stores were up 4% year-over-year and up 1.1% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.

• General merchandise stores were up 3.2% year-over-year and up 0.8% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.

• Health and personal care stores were up 2.4% year-over-year and up 1.6% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.

• Clothing and clothing accessory stores were up 2.1% year-over-year but down 1.3% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.

• Furniture and home furnishings stores were down 2.5% year-over-year and down 1.2% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.

• Electronics and appliance stores were down 3.2% year-over-year and down 0.3% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.

• Sporting goods stores were down 6.2% year-over-year but up 4.8% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.