Economy Watch: Retail Sales Surge in November

Most retail categories enjoyed higher sales for the month and all types had positive sales growth for the year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, November 2017
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, November 2017

U.S. retail and food services sales were up by 0.8 percent in November compared with October, the Census Bureau reported Nov. 14. That was more than expected, and since the bureau adjusts for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, though not for price changes, the fact that the holidays are near wasn’t a factor in the increase.

The September to October 2017 percent change was revised from up 0.2 percent to up 0.5 percent. Also, retail sales were up 5.8 percent compared with November 2016.

Retail Rebounds

Car sales were not a factor in the monthly increase. In fact, car and car part sales were down for November by 0.2 percent, the only category that suffered a loss. Without car sales, total retail sales would have been up for the month by a full 1 percent. Car sales remain strong year-over-year, however, they were up 5.7 percent compared with November 2016.

Every other retail category enjoyed higher sales in November compared with the previous month, except general merchandise stores, whose sales were flat. Even department stores, who are facing the adverse tide of retail history, eked out a gain of 0.3 percent. Electronics stores scored a 2.1 percent increase in sales for the month, and furniture stores and building material stores both saw gains of more than 1 percent.

For the year, all retail sales categories were positive. Building material stores gained 10.7 percent; furniture stores enjoyed an increase of 8.4 percent; and even department stores were up 1.7 percent.

As usual, Internet sales (non-store, as the Census Bureau puts it) were up strongly for the month, at 2.5 percent. For the year, they were up 10.4 percent.