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Retail Sales Improve in December


Retail sales growth improved in December, according to just-released US Department of Commerce data. Total sales rose by a better-than-expected 4.5% on a 12-month smoothed basis, beating both October’s and November’s growth rates, but still relatively low compared to the high-single-digit gains of early 2011. The data suggest that although consumers are spending, they’re doing so in a careful, measured way.
Autos had a positive impact on total sales last month. Taking autos out of the mix, total retail sales increased by only 3.1%.
Total retail inventory increased by 7.2% in November (the most recent month for which this measure is available), less than October’s increase. The total retail inventory-to-sales ratio remained flat.

Dec Retail 4

Department, discount and chain store sales fell by over 2.5% in December, a slightly better performance than in November, when sales were down by 3.6% on a 12-month smoothed basis. The extra weekend in the Holiday selling season helped stores recover from the impact of Superstorm Sandy. Many retail chains implemented major promotions during the season, which experts fear might have invigorated sales at the expense of profitability. Big store inventory plunged by 5.8%, and the inventory-to-sales ratio fell slightly as well.

Dec Retail 3

The specialty apparel store sector had a pretty good month, however. Sales growth increased to 4.6% in December after inventory rose 3.3% the month before. The inventory to sales ratio was flat in November.

Dec Retail 2

The combined department, chain, discount and apparel specialty retail sector, a traditionally reliable barometer of total apparel sales, enjoyed a sales improvement of 1.4% on a 12-month smoothed basis, better than the prior month, in which sales growth for the combined sectors was negligible.

Related Stories

Dec Retail 1

Income tax rate increases are expected to dampen sales in early 2013 as take-home pay declines for many Americans, particularly those in higher income brackets.

Retail Sales & Inventory
$MM — Adjusted for Seasonality

Dec-12

Nov-12

Dec-11

Total US Retail Sales

415,695

413,582

396,974

Department Store Sales

15,051

15,003

15,318

Apparel Specialty Stores

20,301

20,099

19,319

Total Dept & Specialty

35,352

35,102

34,637

Nov-12

Oct-12

Nov-11

M & B Specialty Sales

N/A

N/A

N/A

W & G Specialty Sales

3,507

3,526

3,291

Total Retail Inventory

507,404

506,076

470,478

Dept Store Inventory

29,279

29,596

30,714

Apparel Specialty Inv

48,034

47,924

46,283

Dept & Spec Inv:Sales

2.19

2.21

2.22