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Retail Sales Growth Accelerates in September

Total retail sales growth accelerated for the third straight month in September, according to just-released government figures. Sales grew 4.9% on a 12-month smoothed basis, topping August’s rate of 3.7% and July’s 2% advance.

Much of the gain was auto-related. Taking autos out of the mix, total retail sales increased by only 4.27%. Gas stations saw sales grow by a staggering 9% on a smoothed basis, to over $47 billion.

For the first time in several months, electronics stores also enjoyed a nice bump, presumably due to the new iPhone launch and brisk sales of tablets.

Specialty apparel stores had the highest growth rate of any major soft goods channel, helped by strong back-to-school sales at some key women’s and teen chains. Big stores as a whole had another sluggish month.

Total retail inventory surged by 8.8% in August (the most recent month for which this measure is available), its second biggest monthly jump in six years, but the overall inventory-to-sales ratio fell slightly.

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Department, discount and chain stores sales fell in September for the third straight month. August department store inventory dropped by over 4%, and the inventory-to-sales ratio fell slightly.

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Specialty apparel store sales enjoyed a gain of 5.6%, their biggest gain in six months as this channel continues to steal apparel market share from the big stores. August inventory rose by 6.3% as stores continued to stock up for the fall and holiday seasons. Inventory to sales ratio remained stable.

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The combined department, chain, discount and apparel specialty retail sector, a decent barometer of total apparel sales, enjoyed a sales improvement of 2.9% on a 12-month smoothed basis, helped by the increase in specialty store sales.

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Retail Sales & Inventory    
$MM — Adjusted for Seasonality    
       
 

Sep-12

Aug-12

Sep-11

Total US Retail Sales

412,939

408,250

391,913

Department Store Sales

15,270

15,308

15,469

Apparel Specialty Stores

20,147

20,017

19,201

Total Dept & Specialty

35,417

35,325

34,670

       
 

Aug-12

Jul-12

Aug-11

M & B Specialty Sales

N/A

N/A

N/A

W & G Specialty Sales

3,457

3,476

3,115

Total Retail Inventory

502,407

499,543

465,931

Dept Store Inventory

29,886

30,049

30,947

Apparel Specialty Inv

48,273

48,218

45,507

Dept & Spec Inv:Sales

2.21

2.22

2.21