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Retail Sales Growth Slowed in September

Consumers apparently spent more time in the classroom than at the mall in September, according to just-released data from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Total retail sales grew 3.1% on a 12-month smoothed basis, less than August’s 4% jump. Taking automotive sales out of the mix, sales increased by 3%.

Total retail inventory rose by 4.7% in August (the most recent month for which this measure is available), lower than July’s 5.1% rise.

Department, chain and discount stores were the hardest hit of all major channels, suffering their eighteenth straight month of declines. The sector, which combines traditional department stores like Macy’s and Dillard’s with national chains Sears, Kohl’s and JCPenney and discounters like Walmart, Target and Kmart, saw seasonally-adjusted sales plunge 5.6% on a 12-month smoothed basis, and 6% compared to the same month last year. Big store inventory was flat in August, and the inventory-to-sales ratio dropped slightly.

Apparel specialty store sales gained 2%, their smallest monthly increase since September 2010.  Specialty stores continued to erode department and discount store market share, though at a much slower pace than in previous months. This sector includes the big specialty chains like Gap, Victoria’s Secret, Men’s Wearhouse and Ann Taylor, and independent boutiques. Specialty store inventories were flat, though their inventory-to-sales ratio remained at the same level as last month.

The combined department, chain, discount and apparel specialty retail sector, a traditionally reliable barometer of total apparel sales, fell by 1.2% on a 12-month smoothed basis. August inventories for the combined sectors were flat.