WASHINGTON-Emerging from the holiday season, U.S. retail sales totaled $416.6 billion in January, up 0.1 percent from December and 4.4 percent ahead of January 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s monthly report.
The channels that sell home products experienced a laggard month as the year began. Sales and furniture and home furnishings stores fell 0.2 percent from December while rising 3.2 percent versus last year’s January. General merchandise stores produced a 1.1 percent gain in sales month over month but fell 1 percent compared to last year. Department stores (excluding leased departments) reported a 1 percent pickup in sales over December along with a 0.6 percent decline in sales compared to January of last year.
According to the National Retail Federation, consumers adjusted their spending in response to the January increases in their payroll taxes and in gasoline and energy prices. Matthew Shay, NRF’s president and CEO, said, “Consumers are continuing to hold back on spending just as our economy is held back by political brinkmanship in D.C. The failure to address the critical challenges confronting our economy will continue to dampen consumer confidence, which will in turn mute sales and growth. The economy will continue to limp along until our politicians finally address our tax and spending challenges, and put forward a pro-growth, pro-job agenda.”
That aside, NRF also found some hopeful signs for retail’s future. Consumers seem more confident with a healthier housing market, stronger employment statistics and historic stock-market highs, according to the association’s chief economist, Jack Kleinhenz. “Even though retail sales were relatively modest in January, consumers seem to have adjusted accordingly to rising taxes and energy prices,” Kleinhenz said.