Economy Watch: Retail Sales Dip in January

By D.C. Stribling Image courtesy of Creative Commons user southareapictures.jpeg U.S. retail and food services sales dropped 0.3 percent in January compared with December, the Census Bureau reported on Wednesday. The bureau adjusts its calculations to account for seasonal variation and holidays, so the decline wasn’t a function of the end of

Image courtesy of Creative Commons user southareapictures.jpeg
Image courtesy of Creative Commons user southareapictures.jpeg

U.S. retail and food services sales dropped 0.3 percent in January compared with December, the Census Bureau reported on Wednesday. The bureau adjusts its calculations to account for seasonal variation and holidays, so the decline wasn’t a function of the end of the holiday selling season.

The monthly drop is in contrast to December, when adjusted sales were up 0.4 percent compared with the month before. Though down for the month, retail sales in January 2018 were still 3.6 percent higher than January 2017.

The entire monthly decline can be accounted for by auto and auto part sales, which were down by 1.3 percent for the month. Not including those two categories, overall U.S. retail sales for January neither expanded nor contracted. Auto and auto part sales were up a strong 4.2 percent for the year, however.

Sales in many other retail categories were down for the month, but up for the year. Building material and garden equipment and supplies took a 2.4 percent hit in January, but were up 3.6 percent compared with last year. Grocery stores saw a scant 0.1 percent loss for the month, but a 3.9 percent gain for the year. And furniture stores lost 0.4 percent from December to January, but gained 4.7 percent for the year.

Only one category lost for both the month and the year. Sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores sales were down 0.8 percent for the month and 8.1 percent for the year, as the Internet gnawed away at its business. A few categories gained both in monthly and annual sales, such as (remarkably) department stores, up 0.8 percent for the month and 0.4 percent for the year, perhaps because many of the category’s weakest stores have already closed. Clothing stores gained 1.2 percent for the month and 1.9 percent for the year.

Establishments serving food and drink, as well as Internet retailers, saw flat sales in January. But both were up for the year: food service and drinking places by 2.1 percent and Internet sales by 10.2 percent.