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First Cut: October retail sales a modest gain to start the fourth quarter 2019

October retail and food sales were up 0.3% to the high side of market expectations. Sales excluding motor vehicles were up 0.2%. The dollar value of motor vehicle sales was stronger than expected at up 0.5% and helped boost the total. The dollar value of sales at gasoline stations was up 1.1% in part on higher prices at the pump. Building materials were down 0.5%. “Core” retail sales – sales excluding motor vehicles, building materials, and gasoline – were up 0.2%. While this is not a roaring start to sales in the fourth quarter 2019, it is a respectable performance that leaves room for improvement over the winter holiday shopping period. The year-over-year pace of sales remains solid, if unspectacular.

The robust housing market was not reflected in sales of household items like furniture (down 0.9%) and electronics and appliances (down 0.4%).

Sales at grocery stores were higher (up 0.4%) and department stores had a narrow increase (up 0.1%). Nonstore retailers had a good month (up 0.9%).


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