Economy Watch: Holiday Spending Exceeds NRF Forecast

U.S. retail sales in the last two months of 2016 increased 4 percent from the same time last year, exceeding the National Retail Federation's forecast of 3.6 percent growth.

holiday shoppingU.S. retail sales during November and December increased 4 percent over 2015 to $658.3 billion, according to the National Retail Federation, citing a strengthening economy as encouragement for consumers to spend more freely than expected. The number includes $122.9 billion in non-store (Internet) sales, which were up 12.6 percent from last year.

The numbers exceeded NRF’s forecast of $655.8 billion, which would have been an increase of 3.6 percent. NRF had also forecast that online sales would grow between 7 percent and 10 percent, to as much as $117 billion. The organization’s numbers exclude automobiles, gasoline stations and restaurant sales.

Sales were a mixed bag according to retail type. Sales at clothing and accessories stores increased 2.5 percent year-over-year, while sales at general merchandise stores decreased 1.5 percent, the NRF reported. Electronics and appliances stores’ sales decreased 2.3 percent year-over-year.

On the other hand, furniture and home furnishings stores’ sales increased 4.8 percent on an annual basis. Sales at building materials and supplies stores increased 4.5 percent compared with last year, while sporting goods stores’ sales decreased 1.7 percent over the same period.

Sales at health and personal care stores increased 6.7 percent year-over-year, and food and beverage stores’ sales increased 3.6 percent. Unsurprisingly, sales at department stores dropped 7 percent since last year, the organization reported.