Economy Watch: Retail Sales Peak in November; PPI, Unemployment Drop

Retail sales increased month over month in November. The Producer Price Index for finished goods fell in November, compared to the previous month. And unemployment claims continue dropping.

By Dees Stribling, Contributing Editor

At least in November, the attitude about the fiscal cliff among consumers seemed to be, What, Me Worry? According to the Census Bureau on Thursday, U.S. retail sales for November–adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes–increased 0.3 percent month over month. Compared with November 2011, sales were up 3.7 percent.

The increase seems to augur well for the holiday shopping season. But it also represented a rebound from October, when Hurricane Sandy affected sales in the Northeast, so it’s also possible that a bit of the November increase was delayed spending from October.

Remove the notoriously volatile price of gasoline from the equation (which has been edging down lately), and retail sales increased by 0.5 percent month over month. Compared with November 2011, the increase in retail sales ex gasoline was 4 percent.

PPI Sees Sharp Drop

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Thursday that its Producer Price Index for finished goods fell 0.8 percent in November compared with October. The drop came on top of a smaller decline of 0.2 percent in October and a rise of 1.1 percent in September.

The index for finished energy goods fell 4.6 percent in November, the largest decline since a 4.6 percent decrease in March 2009, when the recession was driving energy prices down from their 2008 highs. Accounting for more than 90 percent of the November 2012 decline was gasoline, which dropped 10.1 percent for the month. Decreases in the indexes for diesel fuel and home heating oil also contributed to lower finished energy goods prices.

The Producer Price Index for crude materials inched up 0.1 percent in November. Crude energy prices dragged the crude PPI down, with prices falling 0.7 percent in November. By contrast, from August to November, crude energy prices climbed 5.1 percent after rising 5 percent in the prior three-month period. The BLS also noted that “Hurricane Sandy had no substantive impact on PPI data collection efforts or survey response rates for November, and no changes in estimation procedures were necessary.”

Unemployment Claims Continue Downward

The U.S. Department of Labor said on Thursday that for the week ending Dec. 8, the initial unemployment claims were 343,000, a decrease of 29,000 from the previous week’s revised figure of 372,000. The four-week moving average was 381,500, a decrease of 27,000 from the previous week, reflecting the lessening impact of Sandy on claims.

Wall Street had a down day on Thursday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropping 74.73 points, or 0.56 percent. The S&P 500 dropped 0.63 percent and the Nasdaq lost 0.72 percent.

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