J: On December 14, the Census Bureau absolutely blew away all analysts, forecasters and undoubtedly most retail executives with its phenomenal news on retail sales in November. As the chart shows, total retail and food services sales hit a record $492.7 billion in November on a seasonally adjusted basis.
This was an increase of 0.8 percent from October and, far more impressively, a leap of 5.8 percent from November 2016. That was the biggest year-over-year increase since the 6.3 percent of March 2012.
Even more amazing was the fact that every major category posted increases from November 2016. The largest rise was 16.7 percent for “Building equipment, garden equipment and supplies.” That was surely heavily influenced by spending to repair the damages from hurricanes in the South and wildfires in the West.
While “Nonstore retailers” (think Amazon and catalog merchants) saw a boost of 10.4 percent from a year earlier, even the long-beleaguered “Department stores” saw a 1.7 percent rise. That was the third consecutive increase over the same month a year earlier. That has not happened since February 2005. Indeed, that sector has been moribund for so long that its peak was $19.9 billion in January 2001. It was $12.8 billion in November.
The broader “General merchandise stores,” which includes Costco, Kmart, Sears, Walmart and others, racked up record sales of $58.3 billion in November. That was a 3.6 percent increase from November 2016.
No one should have been particularly surprised by this good news. (L: Even though almost everyone was. Go figure.) With record numbers of people employed who are collectively earning record levels of income, it should be expected that retail and food services sales should go on to new high levels.
Since most people can now expect higher disposable incomes in 2018 from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (if passed), it would not be surprising if many consumers spent a little more in the last two weeks of this year. We will find out how strong December was on January 12, 2018.
Be watching for that report. It is likely to show we are now enjoying the first month ever of retail and food services sales above half a trillion dollars. That will be a real milestone.
*L: Jim says this almost every year. I used to tease him for this, but doggone, he’s always been right when he’s said it. So I’d go with him on this one.