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August retail sales show modest gains, according to Commerce and NRF data

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
September 14, 2010

Retail sales in August showed modest increases, according to data released earlier today by the United States Department of Commerce and the National Retail Federation (NRF). 

August retail sales, which include non-general merchandise like automobiles, gasoline, and restaurants, at $363.7 billion, were up 0.4 percent from July and up 3.6 percent year-over-year, according to the Department of Commerce. And Commerce added that total retail sales from through June through August of this year were up 4.7 percent year-over-year.

The NRF reported that August retail sales (which exclude automobiles, gas stations, and restaurants) increased 3.0 percent unadjusted year-over-year and increased 0.5 percent seasonally-adjusted compared to July.

“While the underlying trends remain positive, shoppers are still focused on getting their finances in order,” said NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz. “The challenge for retailers is to convince consumers that the recession is over and to buy accordingly.”

As LM has reported, the first half of 2010 showed a fair amount of promise in terms of sustained economic growth. The second half, so far, has been a different story, with unemployment at 9.5 percent, sluggish consumer spending, and declining—or stagnant— volumes in some modes of freight transportation. But even with signs of volumes weakening, they still remain above dismal 2009 levels. One driver for this is due to manufacturers and retailers slowly building up inventories after deliberately keeping them low for months to better match up with low demand levels during the recession.

A separate report from Commerce today said that business inventories were up 1.0 percent in July and up 2.4 percent from the level in July 2009.  The report also stated that inventory sales were up 0.7 percent in July from the prior month and were up 9.2 percent year-over-year. If this trend continues, it could bode well for freight transportation carriers in the coming months ahead.

But according to Charles “Chuck” Clowdis, Managing Director, North America Global Commerce & Transport Advisory Services, at IHS Global Insight, the most recent batch of retail sales numbers is disappointing overall.

“Earlier this year, there was some pent-up demand and inventory replenishment occurring, and consumers seemed to be making more purchases,” said Clowdis. “I was expecting things to be better in August with back to school sales. But I don’t think happened on the level that was expected.”

The relative flattening of retail sales in July and August has brought back a type of freight malaise that had been apparent for several quarters prior to the optimism surrounding the first half of the year, said Clowdis. And he added that the best season of the year may have already occurred in 2010, unlike in typical good years when the heaviest freight volumes occur in October. This sentiment is similar to the recent Port Tracker report from the NRF and Hackett Associates, which noted that July may prove to be the busiest month of the year.

About the Author

Jeff Berman headshot
Jeff Berman
Group News Editor

Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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