U.S. retail sales miss forecasts as restaurant receipts drop

UNITED STATES retail sales rose 0.1 percent in September. / BLOOMBERG NEWS /MICHAEL NAGLE
UNITED STATES retail sales rose 0.1 percent in September. / BLOOMBERG NEWS /MICHAEL NAGLE

NEW YORK – United States retail sales rose less than forecast in September, as a broad-based increase was overshadowed by a drop in restaurant receipts that may reflect the impact of Hurricane Florence.

The value of overall sales rose 0.1 percent for a second month, compared with the median forecast of economists for a 0.6 percent gain, Commerce Department figures showed Monday. So-called retail control-group sales – which are used to calculate gross domestic product and exclude food services, auto dealers, building-materials stores and gasoline stations – climbed 0.5 percent, slightly more than estimated.

While purchases at food-services and drinking establishments fell 1.8 percent, the most since 2016, most other major retail categories showed a gain, suggesting consumption ended the quarter on a solid note. That indicates the biggest part of the economy will withstand the recent stock-market slide amid low unemployment and tax cuts that have boosted take-home pay.

Shopping and consumer activities such as restaurant visits may have been affected in North Carolina and South Carolina in the aftermath of Florence, which made landfall on Sept. 14. Hurricane Michael may also have an impact on October’s figures. At the same time, past experience indicates any negative fallout tends to be temporary and reverses in subsequent months.

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The Commerce Department’s Census Bureau, which produces the retail figures, said some firms “reported a drop in sales due to permanent or temporary store closures and stores having reduced business due to damage” or shipment delays, according to a frequently-asked-questions on its website. Some businesses reported a positive impact from weather, and the bureau can’t isolate the monthly data at specific geographic levels, it said.

Steady economic growth and gradual gains in inflation have reinforced investor bets that the Federal Reserve will lift interest rates in December for the fourth hike this year, and stay on a tightening path in 2019.

Economists’ forecasts

Estimates for overall retail sales in the Bloomberg survey ranged from gains of 0.3 percent to 1.1 percent. The data capture just under half of all household purchases and tend to be volatile.

Ten of 13 major retail categories showed increases, according to the Commerce Department data. The broad-based improvement reflected rebounds at auto dealers and furniture and home- furnishing stores, which had the biggest gain since April.

Purchases at electronics and appliance vendors also rose the most since June; they may have gotten a boost from Apple Inc.’s introduction of new iPhone models in late September.

Excluding purchases of autos and gasoline, sales were little changed.

Filling-station receipts fell 0.8 percent, the report showed. Seasonally adjusted gasoline prices decreased 0.2 percent in September from the prior month, according to last week’s report on the consumer-price index. The Commerce Department figures aren’t adjusted for price changes, so changes in gasoline costs can affect the retail sales results.

Sales at automobile and parts dealers rose 0.8 percent after decreasing 0.5 percent in the previous month, the Commerce Department data showed. That’s consistent with industry reports, which showed sales advanced in September to the fastest pace since March.

Other details

  • Sales rose 0.5 percent at clothing vendors and 0.3 percent at general merchandise stores
  • Purchases in the non-store category, which includes online shops, rose 1.1 percent following a 0.5 percent increase
  • Sporting goods and hobby stores posted a 0.7 percent increase after a 0.5 percent decline
  • Health and personal-care vendors fell 0.3 percent after a 0.5 percent increase

Shobhana Chandra is a reporter for Bloomberg News.