January U.S. retail sales continue strong after holidays, up 5.4 % over last year

An improving economy kept January retail sales nearly as good as the holiday season’s strong showing – dropping only 0.26 % seasonally adjusted from December – and fuelled a healthy 5.4 % increase year-over year, the U.S. National Retail Federation said today. The numbers exclude automobiles, gasoline stations and restaurants

“These numbers reinforce a positive start to 2018 that reflects ongoing consumer optimism brought about by solid economic fundamentals,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “Consumer spending continues to grow at a steady pace and is showing year-over-year increases across almost all retail sectors. Employment has increased, labour markets are tightening and wage growth is on the rise. Stock market headlines are a concern for some shoppers, but households have the wherewithal to spend, and the tax cuts consumers are now seeing in their paychecks will bring an added boost.”

“Some observers are spinning this as a disappointing month but you’ve got to keep in mind that we’re coming off one of the strongest holiday seasons in years,” Kleinhenz said. “It’s also difficult to draw conclusions from month-to-month changes because of the huge seasonal-adjustment factors.”

The January numbers follow 5.1 % unadjusted year-over-year growth in holiday sales during November and December, which was revised down slightly today from the 5.5 % initially reported. December was down 0.1 % from November seasonally adjusted but up 3.8 % year-over-year. The three-month year-over-year moving average is up 5.2 %.

The results comes as NRF is forecasting that 2018 retail sales will grow between 3.8 % and 4.4 % over 2017.

NRF’s numbers are based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which reported today that overall January sales – including automobiles, gasoline and restaurants – were down 0.3 % seasonally adjusted from December but up 5 % year-over-year.

Specifics from key retail sectors during January include:

  • Online and other non-store sales were up 13.2 % year-over-year and were unchanged from December.
  • Furniture and home furnishings stores were up 6.6 % year-over-year but down 0.4 % from December seasonally adjusted.
  • Building materials and garden supply stores were up 6 % year-over-year but down 2.4 % from December seasonally adjusted.
  • Clothing and clothing accessory stores were up 3.1 % year-over-year and up 1.2 % from December seasonally adjusted.
  • General merchandise stores were up 3 % year-over-year and up 0.2 % from December seasonally adjusted.
  • Electronics and appliance stores were up 2.9 % year-over-year and up 0.5 % from December seasonally adjusted.
  • Health and personal care stores were up 1.8 % year-over-year but down 1.2 % from December seasonally adjusted.
  • Sporting goods stores showed the only year-over-year decrease, down 5.9 %, also down 0.8 % from December seasonally adjusted.

NRF is the world’s largest retail trade association, representing discount and department stores, home goods and specialty stores, Main Street merchants, grocers, wholesalers, chain restaurants and internet retailers from the United States and more than 45 countries. Retail is the nation’s largest private-sector employer, supporting one in four U.S. jobs — 42 million working Americans. Contributing USD 2.6 trillion to annual GDP, retail is a daily barometer for the nation’s economy.