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Retail sales fall short in November amid late Thanksgiving

Retail sales advanced at a snail’s pace in November as consumers cut back on spending. 

Retail sales inched up 0.1% in November over October and were up 2.1%   year-over-year,  reported the National Retail Federation. The numbers exclude automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants.

NRF’s numbers are based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which said Friday that overall November sales – including auto dealers, gas stations and restaurants – were up 0.2% seasonally adjusted from October and up 3.3% unadjusted year-over-year. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast retail sales would accelerate 0.5% in November. 

In a statement, NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz acknowledged the modest November growth, but cautioned that the late timing of Thanksgiving delayed the beginning of the busiest portion of the holiday season and pushed Cyber Monday’s billions of dollars of retail sales into December.

“These numbers are more about the calendar than consumer confidence,” Kleinhenz said. “Consumer spending has been solid, and there’s still a lot of spending to be done. With strong employment and higher wages, we’re on track for a strong holiday season.”

Kleinhenz noted that the year-over-year comparison was challenging because November 2018 was up an unusually strong 4.7% over the year before. But December 2018 was down 0.2% from the year before, making it likely that next month could show a strong comparison.

Specifics from key retail sectors for November month-over-month sales include:

  • Online and other non-store sales were up 0.8%;
  • Sporting goods stores were down 0.5%;.
  • Grocery and beverage stores were up 0.3%;   
  • Furniture and home furnishings stores were up 0.1%;  
  • General merchandise stores were up 0.1%;  
  • Building materials and garden supply stores were unchanged;
  • Electronics and appliance stores were up 0.7%;   
  • Health and personal care stores were down 1.1% and
  • Clothing and clothing accessory stores were down 0.6%.
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