November Retail Spending Growth Tops Expectations

U.S. consumer spending increased by 4.2% year over year to $513.5 billion in November and up by 0.2% month over month from an upwardly revised October total of $512.4 billion. The U.S. Census Bureau released its estimated retail sales data for November Friday morning. A poll of economists had forecast that retail sales would rise 0.1% from sales in October.

In general, this is a solid, but not exactly great, report. Lower gasoline prices gave consumers more cash in their pockets and spend they did, primarily online and in big-box stores. Last year was a big one for retailers, giving 2018 comparisons a high hurdle. For the year to date, total retail sales are up 5.3% compared with the year-ago total.

November sales were lower month over month in just three business categories: gasoline stations, clothing and accessories stores, and food/drinking places. Total retail sales, excluding gas stations, were 0.5 points higher than in October.

Sales of motor vehicles rose by 0.2% month over month from October and rose 1.3% compared with November 2017. Car sales totaled $103.7 billion last month on an adjusted basis, higher than the upwardly adjusted October total of $103.5 billion. November 2018 sales were up by about $1.5 billion over November 2017 sales.

Retail trade sales rose 0.3% month over month and increased 4% year over year. Nonstore retail sales (primarily e-commerce) rose 10.8% year over year.

Gasoline station sales fell by 2.3% month over month and are up 8.2% year over year. The year-over-year increase is due largely to higher pump prices through the summer and into the fall, while the drop month over month is due to a recent plunge in crude oil prices. Adjusted gas sales totaled about $3.5 billion more in November than in the same month last year.

Electronics stores posted a sales increase of 1.4% month over month and a year-over-year increase of 4% in sales.

Department stores posted a month-over-month sales increase of 0.4%, and they were down 0.2% year over year.

Sales of sporting goods/hobby/musical instruments/books were up 0.4% month over month but down 8.8% year over year.

Food services and bar sales decreased by 0.5% month over month but remain up by 5.6% year over year.

Clothing stores posted a month-over-month sales decline of 0.2% but have added 4.1% year to date compared to November 2017.