Most Retailers Enjoy a Surprise September Uptick

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, retail sales saw an unexpected increase in September. The bureau's monthly report, released on Friday, noted that retail and food services sales totaled $367.7 billion, an increase of 0.6 percent from August, and a meaty 7.3 percent more than the same month in 2009.

October 18, 2010
By Dees Stribling, Contributing Editor

Courtesy Flickr Creative Commons user Andres Rueda

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, retail sales saw an unexpected increase in September. The bureau’s monthly report, released on Friday, noted that retail and food services sales totaled $367.7 billion, an increase of 0.6 percent from August, and a meaty 7.3 percent more than the same month in 2009.

Leading the way were autos and auto parts, which posted a 1.6 percent monthly sales increase–and a 17.9 percent increase over the dismal days of September 2009. Electronics and appliance stores did almost as well, bagging a 1.5 percent increase month-to-month, and a 5.6 percent increase year-over-year.

The month wasn’t so good for clothing and accessory stores, with that class of retailer seeing a 0.2 percent drop in sales, though clothiers did experience a 3.2 percent sales increase since this time last year. On the other hand, department stores can’t catch a break. Their sales edged down 0.1 percent in September compared with August, and they also lost 0.8 percent in sales compared with September 2009. Maybe department stores face a more fundament set of problems than a severe recession.

HUD Secretary: Total Foreclosure Moratorium Bad Idea

Over the weekend, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan wrote in the Huffington Post that “the notion that many of the very same institutions that helped cause this housing crisis may well be making it worse is not only frustrating–it’s shameful… banks must follow the law–and those that haven’t should immediately fix what is wrong.”

In line with Obama administration thinking, Donovan stopped short of calling for a complete moratorium on foreclosures: “Some have suggested, however, that all foreclosures in every state, under every servicer, should be stopped. But a national, blanket moratorium on all foreclosure sales would do far more harm than good–hurting homeowners and home-buyers alike at a time when foreclosed homes make up 25 percent of home sales.

“In the last 18 months, 3.3 million families have received restructured mortgages with more affordable monthly payments, which is more than twice as many foreclosures that have been completed during that time,” Donovan noted. “With vacant and abandoned homes more than three times as destructive to the values of neighboring homes as occupied homes that are just beginning the foreclosure process, a blanket moratorium would only slow down that progress.”

More “Nonconventional” Steps to Be Taken by Fed?

On Friday there was more talk from Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, who said in a speech to the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston that the Fed was poised to do something: “Given the [Federal Open Market] Committee’s objectives, there would appear–all else being equal–to be a case for further action.” (In Fed-esse, that’s pretty much a call to action.)

“However, as I indicated earlier, one of the implications of a low-inflation environment is that policy is more likely to be constrained by the fact that nominal interest rates cannot be reduced below zero…” the chairman continued. “Further policy accommodation is certainly possible even with the overnight interest rate at zero, but nonconventional policies have costs and limitations that must be taken into account in judging whether and how aggressively they should be used.”

Wall Street had a mixed day on Friday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 31.79 points, or 0.29 percent. The S&P 500 was up 0.2 percent and the Nasdaq spiked 1.37 percent with a boost from Google.