Retail sales surprise in July

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Retail sales surprise in July

By Marianne Wilson - 08/15/2019
Consumer spending remained robust in July as sales beat expectations.

Retail sales rose 0.9% in July seasonally adjusted from June and 5.6% unadjusted year-over-year, the National Retail Federation said. The numbers exclude automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants.

NRF’s numbers are based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which said that overall July sales – including auto dealers, gas stations and restaurants – were up 0.7% seasonally adjusted from June and up 3.4% unadjusted year-over-year. A  Bloomberg survey of economists has predicted a 0.3% gain.

The release of July’s numbers comes two days after the Trump administration delayed new tariffs on some consumer goods until December 15 to avoid any impact on holiday spending. However, many products will still be hit by tariffs taking effect September 1 as scheduled.

While the strong sales results for July bode well for the economy and should help ease fears that it is heading into a downturn, NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz added a cautionary note.

“July’s strong results are consistent with a confident consumer,” he said. “Households are in good shape with spending and that should continue as long as the labor market remains healthy. But it’s important to remember that today’s data is looking backward at what was happening a month ago. The impact of volatile financial markets and increased trade tensions in recent weeks may put a wind of caution in consumer spending as we move forward in 2019.”

As of July, the three-month moving average was up 3.5% over the same period a year ago, compared with 3.7% in June. July’s results build on gains of 0.6% month-over-month and 2.2% year-over-year seen in June.

Online and other non-store sales surged 19.3% year-over-year and were up 2.8% month-over-month, likely boosted by Amazon’s Prime Day promotion.

Other specifics from key retail sectors during July include:

  • Health and personal care stores were up 6.1% year-over-year but down 0.2% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.

  • Grocery and beverage stores were up 4% year-over-year and up 0.6% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.

  • General merchandise stores were up 2.1% year-over-year and up 0.6% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.

  • Furniture and home furnishings stores were up 2% year-over-year and up 0.3% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.

  • Sporting goods stores were up 2% year-over-year but down 1.1% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.

  • Building materials and garden supply stores were down 0.5% year-over-year but up 0.2% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.

  • Clothing and clothing accessory stores were down 1.6% year-over-year but up 0.8% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.

  • Electronics and appliance stores were down 2.3% year-over-year but up 0.9% month-over-month seasonally adjusted.