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January Retail Sales Rise, But Department and Clothing Stores Falter

U.S. retail sales increased a seasonally adjusted 4 percent in January to $463.27 billion compared to a year earlier and were up 0.1 percent year-over-year, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Friday.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) said the numbers, which exclude automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants, build on increases of 0.3 percent month-over-month and 6.3 percent year-over-year in December. Moody’s vice president Mickey Chadha said the gains were as expected and demonstrated “the resiliency of the consumer as the economy continues to grow and unemployment remains low.”

Isolated “pockets of weakness” aside, “sales continue to be good, led by e-commerce, grocery stores and motor vehicles and parts sales growth,” Chadha said. “Laggards continue to be department stores and electronics stores…Sales for clothing stores were also lackluster.”

The Census Bureau’s monthly report showed clothing and clothing accessory store sales were down 0.7 percent year-over-year to $22.27 billion and declined 3.1 percent from December.

Sales at general merchandise stores were up 3.3 percent compared to January 2019 to $60.19 billion and rose 0.5 percent for the month. Within the category, department store sales fell 5.6 percent to $10.96 billion and dipped 0.1 percent compared to the prior month.

Sporting goods store sales were down 1.5 percent year-over-year to $6.38 billion, but rose 0.1 percent from the prior month.

“The strength of consumer spending continues to be the anchor of the current economic expansion,” said NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz, who noted the year’s start on a “strong footing.” “January’s retail sales results reflect a confident consumer supported by solid wage growth and job gains. While the business sector continues to weigh significant uncertainties, consumers are providing staying power for U.S. economic growth.”

Moody’s continues to expect that consumer confidence, wage growth, low unemployment and the continued gross domestic product growth in the U.S. will result in 2020 retail sales growth of more than 3.5 percent, “led by e-commerce players like Amazon, off-price retailers like TJX and Ross, value and convenience-oriented retailers like Dollar General and Dollar Tree, and discounters and warehouse clubs like Walmart, Target and Costco,” Chadha said.