The Census Bureau said that retail sales decreased 0.1 percent in September, its first decline since March. We have seen the pace of overall retail spending decelerate over the past few months. The growth rate of retail sales over the past 12 months has fallen from 6.0 percent in June to 4.6 percent in August to 3.2 percent in September.
Motor vehicle sales were off 2.2 percent in September, skewing the overall data lower. In fact, if you were to exclude autos from the analysis, retail sales would have risen 0.4 percent. The non-auto year-over-year pace of retail sales was 2.8 percent, down from 4.4 percent in July and 3.2 percent in August. Still, motor vehicle sales have largely been a positive for consumer spending, with auto purchases up 5.1 percent over the past 12 months and 15.8 percent over the past two years.
Outside of automobiles, retail spending was up modestly, as just noted. Retailers with the largest gains in September included grocery stores (up 1.0 percent); food services and drinking places (up 0.9 percent), electronics and appliances (up 0.7 percent); sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores (up 0.5 percent); general merchandise stores (up 0.4 percent); and nonstore retailers (up 0.4 percent).
These were somewhat offset by declining sales for the month for miscellaneous store retailers (down 1.2 percent), department stores (down 0.9 percent), and clothing and accessory stores (down 0.5 percent). Gasoline station sales were a nonfactor this month, with no change from August in overall spending.
Looking at longer-term trends, segments with the greatest gains in year-over-year retail spending were: nonstore retailers (up 8.9 percent), miscellaneous store retailers (up 6.2 percent), building material and garden supply stores (up 5.8 percent), motor vehicle and parts dealers (up 5.1 percent), furniture and home furnishing retailers (up 4.3 percent), and food services and drinking places (up 4.2 percent). Department store sales had the largest weaknesses, with retail sales down 6.0 percent over the past 12 months.
Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.