Economy Watch: Retail Sales Robust in October

The retail industry saw a 0.8 percent increase in sales this October, revealing that consumers are certainly out spending, according to the Census Bureau.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Percent Change in Retail and Food Services Sales, October 2016

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Percent Change in Retail and Food Services Sales, October 2016

The Census Bureau reported on Tuesday that U.S. retail and food services sales for October were $465.9 billion, an increase of 0.8 percent from the previous month, and 4.3 percent above October 2015. Also, the August-to-September 2016 change was revised upward from up 0.6 percent to up 1 percent. Consumers are out spending.

The bureau adjusts its numbers for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, though that hardly matters these days, except for volatile goods like gasoline. In any case, the latest retail sales report was yet another strong metric that might help incline the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates in December.

Almost every kind of retailer enjoyed strong year-over-year increases in sales. Miscellaneous retailers—dollars stores and their ilk—experienced a 9.5 percent increase, while health and personal care store sales were up 8.3 percent. Even furniture store sales recorded some increase: 1.7 percent, despite the miasma of that kind of retail in recent years. Non-store retailers (Internet) continued their run of expanding sales, up 12.9 percent for year.

Naturally, not quite every retail category has seen growing sales. On an annual basis, department stores, the sad sack of the retail world, suffered a 7.3 percent sales contraction in October, according to the bureau. Electronics retailers are also in a crummy funk, with sales contracting 4 percent for the year. Some of those losses probably migrated to the non-store sales column.