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January 17, 2020

US holiday retail sales up 4.1% despite clothing slide

Overall sales at US retailers during the 2019 holiday period were 4.1% higher than in 2018, despite consumers continuing to cut clothing spend in the festive trading season, new figures suggest.

By Beth Wright

Overall sales at US retailers during the 2019 holiday period were 4.1% higher than in 2018, despite consumers continuing to cut clothing spend in the festive trading season, new figures suggest.

Sales in the period amounted to US$730.2bn, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). The growth rate is nearly double the weak 2.1% seen during the 2018 holiday season, which was slowed by a government shutdown, stock market volatility and interest rate hikes. 

The rise is in line with an NRF forecast in October that 2019 holiday sales during November and December would increase between 3.8-4.2% for a total in the range of $727.9bn and $730.7bn.

“This was a healthy holiday season, especially compared with the decline in retail sales we saw at the end of the season in 2018,” says NRF chief economist, Jack Kleinhenz. “Despite a late Thanksgiving and worries about tariffs, the consumer didn’t go away. We’ve had months of strong employment numbers, high wages and strong household balance sheets. There’s no doubt that gave consumers a sense of confidence about their ability to spend, and they did their part to keep the economy moving.”

The numbers, which exclude automobiles, gasoline stations and restaurants, include a 14.6% rise year-over-year in online and other non-store sales. This compares to the NRF forecast which called for online sales to increase between 11-14% to between $162.6bn and $166.9bn.

However, sales at clothing and clothing accessory stores were down 1.6% year-over-year, while sales at sporting goods slipped 0.4%.

Retail sales in December 2019 alone increased 0.5% seasonally adjusted over November and were up 6.7% unadjusted year-over-year.

December’s results follow November’s decline of 0.1% month-over-month and an increase of 1.3% year-over-year. As of December, the three-month moving average was up 4.1% over the same period a year ago, compared with 3.1% in November.

Kleinhenz says the modest growth in November and the large increase in December came partly because two key days of the Thanksgiving shopping weekend – the Sunday and also Cyber Monday – fell in December this year.

NRF’s numbers are based on data from the US Census Bureau, which said that overall December sales – including auto dealers, gas stations and restaurants – were up 0.3% seasonally adjusted from November and up 5.8% unadjusted year-over-year.

“These numbers validate continued optimism for increased investment and opportunity in the retail industry,” adds NRF president and CEO, Matthew Shay. “This is a consumer-driven economy, and by any measure, the consumer has put the economy in a solid position for continued growth. This is a strong finish to the holiday season, and we think it’s a positive indicator of what’s ahead.”

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