Retail sales, for the month of September, were in line with August sequentially while posting annual gains, according to data respectively issued today by the United States Department of Commerce and the National Retail Federation (NRF).
Commerce reported that September retail sales—at $684 billion—were flat compared to August while posting an 8.2% annual gain, amid ongoing 40-year highs for inflation. Total retail sales, from July through September, were up 9.2% compared to the same period a year ago.
Retail trade sales were off 0.1% compared to August and up 7.8% annually, and non-store retailers, which includes e-commerce sales activity, posted an 11.6% annual gain.
NRF said that in its calculation of retail sales, which excludes automobile dealers, gasoline stations, and restaurants, to focus on core retail, pointed to September retail sales increasing 0.3% over August and up 7.2% on an unadjusted basis annually. NRF also noted that its numbers rose 7.6% on an unadjusted basis on a three-month moving average through September, with retail sales up 7.2% annually through the nine months of 2022, leaving its 2022 estimate of 6%-to-8% annual growth intact.
“Consumer demand remained intact during September and continues to be a key contributor to economic activity,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said in a statement. “But sales were uneven across retail categories and inflation is the main factor that is determining how much shoppers are willing to spend. Households are tapping into savings, accessing credit and reducing their savings contributions as they meet higher prices head on. Shoppers are looking for bargains and value in the current economic environment and even more so as we head into the holiday season.”
NRF pointed to gains for all the retail segments it tracks except one, electronics sales, which fell 0.8% compared to August on a seasonally adjusted basis and also down 8.9% unadjusted annually, including
September retail sales gains were seen for the following sectors by NRF:
• Online and other non-store sales were up 0.5% month over month seasonally adjusted and up 11.5% unadjusted year over year;
• Building materials and garden supply stores were down 0.4% month over month seasonally adjusted but up 9.2% unadjusted year over year;
• Grocery and beverage stores were up 0.4% month over month seasonally adjusted and up 6.7% unadjusted year over year;
• General merchandise stores were up 0.7% month over month seasonally adjusted and up 4.8% unadjusted year over year;
• Sporting goods stores were down 0.7% month over month seasonally adjusted but up 4.8% unadjusted year over year;
• Health and personal care stores were up 0.5% month over month seasonally adjusted and up 4.6% unadjusted year over year;
• Clothing and clothing accessory stores were up 0.5% month over month seasonally adjusted and up 4.5% unadjusted year over year; and
• Furniture and home furnishings stores were down 0.7% month over month seasonally adjusted but up 1.5% unadjusted year over year
In a research note, Naveen Jaggi, President Retail Advisory Services, for industrial real estate firm JLL, wrote that although retail spending was flat in September, the slight gains from last month in general retail categories indicate consumers are saving their money on bigger ticket items such as travel, furniture and electronics as we approach the holidays.
“With Halloween and Thanksgiving around the corner, we can expect consumers to start their holiday shopping, and, despite inflation, we anticipate a slight increase in sales for October,” noted Jaggi.
And Neil Saunders, Managing Director of GlobalData, observed that most of the September retail sales’ uplift was driven by inflation, with only a very small volume increase coming from a handful of categories.
“Given that most households remain under financial pressure, the numbers are an indication that the consumer is surviving but not thriving—even during a month when gas prices came down a little,” noted Saunders. “The thing about the numbers across almost all categories is that, while they look OK on the surface, there are various underlying trends that suggest something less favorable is occurring. This also applies to the overall headline figure which is now being held up by a combination of whittling down savings, taking on more credit card debt, and more affluent consumers reluctantly absorbing the cost increases. Few of these things are truly sustainable over the longer term.”
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