• Hurricane Sandy, fiscal cliff impact October retail sales

For the first time in three months, retail sales ticked down slightly as consumers cooled discretionary spending in the face of inclement weather and uncertainty in Washington. According to the National Retail Federation, October retail sales (excluding automobiles, gas stations and restaurants) decreased 0.3 percent seasonally adjusted from September yet increased 3.9 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

"While Hurricane Sandy certainly impacted consumer spending in the northeast and mid-Atlantic states, the larger threat to the overall economy is the impending fiscal cliff, which impacts Americans across the country," NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. "The automatic tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect at the end of the year may have more of an impact on business confidence and consumer spending than any other issue. It's imperative that policymakers address the looming fiscal cliff now to give consumers some certainty heading into the holiday shopping season."

October retail sales, released today by the U.S. Department of Commerce, showed total retail and food services sales (which include non-general merchandise categories such as automobiles, gasoline stations, and restaurants) decreased 0.3 percent seasonally adjusted month-to-month yet increased 3.8 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

"The underlying strength of the American consumer is encouraging but it's far from definitive," NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said. "Hurricane Sandy will have short-term and long-term reverberations on the economy and will continue to impact consumer spending and retail sales over the coming months in the hardest-hit areas. Even though retail sales declined in October, NRF remains confident in moderate consumer spending nationwide, and expects a solid holiday shopping season."

Other findings from the October retail sales report include:

  • Clothing and clothing accessories stores' sales decreased 0.1 percent seasonally-adjusted month-to-month yet increased 4.2 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Electronics and appliance stores’ sales decreased 1.0 percent seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and 4.2 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Furniture and home furnishing stores’ sales decreased 0.6 percent seasonally-adjusted month-to-month yet increased 7.3 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • General merchandise stores’ sales increased 0.2 percent seasonally-adjusted month-to-month yet decreased 1.1 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Health and personal care stores’ sales increased 0.3 percent seasonally-adjusted month-to-month yet increased 2.1 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Nonstore retailers’ sales decreased 1.8 percent seasonally-adjusted month-to-month yet increased 12.6 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores’ sales increased 0.5 percent seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and 5.4 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

Read more about consumer behavior.

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