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First Cut: Retail and foods sales disappoint in November on mixed performance

Retail and food sales were up 0.2% in November from October, a modest increase that reflected a mixed performance. Sales were up 0.1% excluding motor vehicles and parts and up 0.1% excluding gasoline, but flat excluding both.  Overall sales were solid year-over-year with a gain of 3.3%, and excluding motor vehicles up 3.0%.

If below expectations, the numbers should not raise too much alarm that consumer spending will turn lower in the fourth quarter. There was a lot of bad weather at month-end that may have delayed holiday shopping. Also, the wave of post-Thanksgiving activity may not have been fully reported and could well show up in a revision in next month’s numbers.

Sales were up 0.1% excluding motor vehicles and parts and up 0.1% excluding gasoline, but flat excluding both. Motor vehicles were up 0.5% and gasoline was up 0.7%. Building materials sales were flat in November compared to the prior month.

“Core” retail sales — sales excluding motor vehicles, gasoline, and building materials — eked out a small 0.1% rise. However, the pace was up 3.5% compared to November 2018.

Elsewhere the increases reflected the start of the holiday shopping season. Sales were particularly good for nonstore retailers at up 0.8% as consumers took to their computers to take advantage of Black Friday deals. Sales for nonstore retailers were up 11.5% compared to the same month last year. And that was before CyberMonday in early December which is likely to keep the component solidly higher in the next report.

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