Economy Watch: Black Friday Sales, Housing Starts Rise; Unemployment Dips

U.S. shoppers made a record 247 million visits to physical stores and Web Sites over Black Friday weekend, up from 226 million last year. Private housing starts in October increased 3.6 percent above the revised September estimate. And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics last week, 37 states

According to the National Federation of Retailers on Sunday, U.S. shoppers made a record 247 million visits to physical stores and Web Sites over Black Friday weekend, up from 226 million last year (the number of unique shoppers making those visits was 139.4 million adults). The average shopper spent $423 this weekend, up from $398 last year. Total spending reached an estimated $59.1 billion.

More than half (53.5 percent) of shoppers visited department stores this weekend, up from 48.7 percent last year. Also, sizable numbers of people shopped at discount stores (39.4 percent), clothing stores (29 percent), electronics stores (33 percent), grocery stores (21.7 percent), and drug stores (12.7 percent), reported the NRF. Taking advantage of online deals over the weekend, 43.8 percent of shoppers visited retailers’ websites, up from 35.2 percent last year.

“There’s no question that millions of people were drawn to retailers’ aggressive online promotions this weekend,” said BIGinsight Consumer Insights director Pam Goodfellow, whose company conducted the survey for the NRF, in a statement. “However, with shopper traffic increasing at department, discount, and clothing stores over the weekend, it’s clear that consumers still recognize Black Friday as one of the biggest shopping days of the year.”

Housing Starts See Solid Rise

Private housing starts in October increased to an annualized rate of 894,000 units, according to the Census Bureau just ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday. That’s 3.6 percent above the revised September estimate of 863,000, and a whopping 41.9 percent higher than the October 2011 annualized rate of 630,000.

Single-family housing starts, however, were at an annualized rate of 594,000, which is roughly the same as in September–only 0.2 percent lower, meaning the month-over-month increase in overall starts was due to the multi-family sector, which has a tendency to swing. Still, single-family starts in October were up about 25 percent compared with the same month last year.

Residential building permits, a forward-looking indicator in the new housing market, took a 2.7 percent dip in October to an annualized rate of 866,000 units. On a year-over-year basis, however, permits are up significantly as well, at 29.8 percent higher than the October 2011 estimate of 667,000.

Most States See Unemployment Drops 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last week that in October 37 states and the District of Columbia recorded unemployment rate decreases, seven states posted rate increases, and six states saw no change. Forty-two states and the District of Columbia registered unemployment rate decreases from a year earlier, while eight states experienced increases, which roughly mirrors the nationwide movement in joblessness: The national jobless rate, 7.9 percent, was essentially unchanged from September but was 1 percentage point lower than in October 2011.

Fourteen states reported statistically significant over-the-month unemployment rate decreases in October, according to the BLS. The largest of these occurred in South Carolina (down 0.5 percentage points), followed by Alaska and Wisconsin (down 0.4 points each). The remaining 36 states and D.C. experienced jobless rates that were not measurably different from those of a month earlier.

Nevada continued to be the champ among the states in the unwanted distinction of highest unemployment rate, which was 11.5 percent in October. Rhode Island and California posted the next highest rates, 10.4 and 10.1 percent, respectively. Energy-rich but worker-short North Dakota maintained its distinction as the state with the lowest unemployment rate: 3.1 percent in October.

Wall Street was up on the shortened trading day on Friday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 172.79 points, or 1.35 percent, while the S&P 500 was up 1.3 percent and the Nasdaq advanced 1.38 percent.