A customer pushes a shopping cart outside of a Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. store in Los Angeles, California, U.S. (Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg)

Retail Sales in U.S. Decline After December Revised Down

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. retail sales unexpectedly declined in January and December receipts were revised lower, indicating consumer demand in the first quarter may cool, according to Commerce Department figures released Wednesday.

Highlights of Retail Sales (January)

  • Overall sales fell 0.3% (est. 0.2% gain), the most since February 2017, after little change in prior month (prev. 0.4% increase)
  • Purchases at automobile dealers dropped 1.3%, the most since August
  • So-called retail-control group sales, which are used to calculate GDP and exclude food services, auto dealers, building materials stores and gasoline stations, unchanged following a revised 0.2% decrease in December (prev. 0.3% gain)
  • 7 of 13 major retail categories showed declines in receipts 

Key Takeaways

The decrease in January sales and the downward revision to December were spread throughout the major retail categories. The soft report suggests consumer spending, the biggest part of the economy, started the current quarter with less momentum following a 3.8 percent annualized increase in the fourth quarter.

While job growth, modest income gains and recent tax cuts should help buoy demand, a pickup in credit-card debt may have persuaded households to temper their spending at merchants last month.

The figures aren’t adjusted for changes in prices and can be volatile from month to month.

Retail Sales in U.S. Decline After December Revised Down

Other Details

  • Excluding automobiles and gasoline, sales fell 0.2 percent, after little change the previous month
  • Receipts at gasoline stations increased 1.6 percent after a 0.3 percent gain, reflecting higher fuel costs
  • Sales dropped 0.4 percent at furniture outlets, 2.4 percent at building-supply merchants and 1.2 percent at personal-care stores
  • Non-store retail sales were little changed in January after a downwardly revised 0.5 percent increase
  • Apparel sales climbed 1.2 percent, reflecting higher prices

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