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October retail sales numbers from Commerce and NRF show different degrees of growth

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
November 20, 2013

October retail sales figures released today by the United States Department of Commerce and the National Retail Federation (NRF) were both up, albeit to varying degrees.

Commerce reported that October retail sales at $428.1 billion were up 0.4 percent compared to September and up 3.9 percent compared to October 2012. Total retail sales from August through October are up 3.9 percent annually.

The NRF reported that October retail sales, which exclude autos, gas stations, and restaurants, were up 2.5 percent on a seasonally-adjusted basis from September and were up 4.2 percent on an unadjusted basis annually.

“The ever-resilient consumer continues to deliver better economic news,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said in a statement. “Various retail segments contributed to this month’s growth showing that there is an ongoing pent-up demand by consumers. Confidence and sales should continue to improve. 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.”

The NRF said in October it is calling for 2012 holiday retail sales to be up 3.9 percent annually this year at $602.1 billion.

And NRF officials cited lower gas prices as a driver for consumer confidence on the upswing, coupled with various promotions to drive spur holiday sales.

As previously reported, with retail sales growth still relatively modest, there still remains a mixed bag of signals and headwinds on the economic front, including a slightly declining unemployment rate, improving consumer confidence data, as well as encouraging automotive sales and housing data.

These things continue to occur, though, against the backdrop of sluggish GDP growth and general uncertainty regarding the economy.

At recent industry conferences, many shippers and carriers were optimistic about fourth quarter retail sales, spurred on in large part by increasing e-commerce activity. Shippers told LM they are allocating inventory and watching inventory levels with a watchful eye and careful planning in advance of holiday shopping, when it kicks off in earnest in the coming weeks.

“Consumers continue their skittish spending even as the Holidays get closer. There is uncertainty in job growth, longevity of present jobs , changing health care availability and costs that can keep shoppers at home or have those brave shoppers very cautious,” said Chuck Clowdis, managing director, Transportation Advisory Services for IHS Global Insight. “We still like to hope for a modest seasonal, annual uptick in retail sales thus year.”

While the NRF was fairly bullish on October’s data and its holiday season forecast, a research note from Clowdis’s colleague IHS Global Insight U.S. Economist Chris Christopher was somewhat more tempered.

Christopher explained that most retail channels had another good month in October even though consumer confidence took a hit due to the government shutdown and bickering over the debt ceiling, adding that retailers outside of building materials and gasoline stations did relatively well, with department stores showing strength in October after a poor September.

“Holiday retail sales are expected to be relatively soft this year,” he wrote. “Many retail chains are hoping for accelerated sales next week and are getting ready for a very intense Black Friday to Christmas Eve shopping season. Holiday retail sales in 2012 were 3.4 percent higher than 2011, while this year we expect holiday retail sales to increase only 3.2 percent. We expected holiday retail sales to account for $598 billion in revenue this year. This year’s holiday sales growth rate is expected to be the weakest since 2009.”

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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