Economy Watch: Retail Sales Enjoys Strong September

U.S. retail and food services sales increased 1.6 percent compared with August, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, with the auto and gas station categories faring best for the month.

U.S. retail and food services sales totaled $483.9 billion in September, an increase of 1.6 percent compared with August, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s recent report. Sales were also 4.4 percent above September 2016, and the monthly change from July 2017 to August 2017 was revised from down 0.2 percent to down 0.1 percent.

Winning and losing categories

Auto sales were a fair slice of the increase. Without auto sales, the month-over-month increase in overall sales was 1 percent. The year-over-year overall increase was even stronger, however, at 4.6 percent without car sales. As a standalone category, car sales were up 3.6 percent for the month and 4 percent for the year.

Gas station sales were up 5.8 percent for the month, but since the bureau adjusts for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, that was mostly a function of higher gas prices during hurricane season.

Other winning categories included building material and garden equipment (up 2.1 percent for the month and 10.7 percent for the year, probably also storm-related); grocery stores, up 1 percent for the month and 3 percent for the year; and food and drinking places, up 0.8 percent and 2.7 percent for the month and year, respectively.

Losing categories were electronics stores, down 1.1 percent for the month and 4.4 percent for the year, and department stores, down 0.4 percent for the month and 0.5 percent for the year. Non-store (internet) continued to eat the lunch of certain of those losing categories (especially electronics), with sales up 0.5 percent for the month and 9.2 percent for the year.