Retail Sales Gain in October

NRFWASHINGTON-An increase in consumer confidence led to a gain of 3.9 percent year over year in October U.S. retail sales, according to data issued this morning by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Retail sales for the month totaled an adjusted $428.1 billion. Compared to September, retail sales increased 0.4 percent.

Looking at the channels that sell home products, furniture and home furnishings stores finished October with increases of 7.7 percent over October 2012 and 1 percent over September. General merchandise stores posted increases of 0.7 percent year over year and 0.2 percent month over month. Sales at department stores (excluding leased departments) fell 4 percent compared to October of last year, but gained 0.5 percent compared to September.

The National Retail Federation attributed the October performance to the “ever-resilient consumer,” as expressed by Jack Kleinhenz, the association’s chief economist. “Various retail segments contributed to this month’s growth, showing that there is an ongoing pent-up demand by consumers,” Kleinhenz said.

He added, “As the holiday season draws closer and closer, NRF remains confident in a good holiday shopping and sales season, which will be in line with our forecast.”

A somewhat less rosy view emerged from The Conference Board in its analysis of this morning’s figures. In her statement on the Census Bureau’s report, Kathy Bostjancic, the board’s director of macroeconomic analysis, said consumers have been winding down the paying off of old debt, and were spurred to modestly increase their spending on core items by aggressive retailer discounting.

“Job and income growth have been disappointing, and the recent government shutdown helped erode confidence that the economy was about to turn more robust, in turn keeping a lid on sales activity,” Bostjancic said. With weak wage growth and a cautious consumer attitude forcing more discounting out of retailers, she added that retailers’ hopes of a better holiday season “now appear out of reach.”