Are Retail and Services Sales Signaling a Slowdown?

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The U.S. Census Bureau has announced advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for December 2018.

These estimates, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $505.8 billion, a decrease of 1.2% from the previous month. However, this was 2.3% above December 2017.

Total sales for the 12 months of 2018 were up 5.0% from 2017, and total sales for the October 2018 through December 2018 period were up 3.7% from the same period a year ago.

The October 2018 to November 2018 percentage change was revised from up 0.2% to up 0.1%.

Retail trade sales were down 1.3% from November 2018, but 2.1% above last year. Clothing and clothing accessories stores were up 4.7% from December 2017, while food services and drinking places were up 4.0% from last year.

Gas stations saw the biggest decline in sales, 5.1%, but that was not unexpected. Gasoline prices have been falling since last fall. At the same time, sales tumbled 3.3% at department stores that have been losing ground for years, mainly to internet-based competitors.

Sales fell at bars, restaurants, apparel stores, grocers, home furnishers, pharmacies and outlets that sell hobby items, such as books and sporting goods.

On the other hand, sales rose 1% at auto dealers, while home-center sales edged up 0.3%.

It’s worth noting that most of these percentages have a little room for variation in the range of about half a percent.

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