Signs of Weaker, Selective Retail Spending in August

August’s retail numbers paint a picture of consumers spending selectively and at a slower pace. Even online sales sagged from robust growth in prior months.

In general, growth weakened month-to-month across most retail sectors, with isolated signs of strength evident mostly in year-to-year measures.

A few positive month-to-month upticks occurred at clothing, electronics and grocery stores, but they remain relatively weak in year-to-year growth. The positive signs at clothing and electronics stores are consistent with what was predicted by the Spending Confidence measures (see recent post here).

Eating out (i.e., food service) is the only place spending remains robust across measures, according to a first look at the latest U.S. retail numbers:

  • Retail Sales Trends - MacroSavvyIn August, seasonally adjusted sales excluding autos, food service, and fuel slowed to 2.9% growth. That’s weaker for a second straight month and down by nearly a full percentage from the year-to-date pace. These measures exclude gasoline and fuel dealers.
  • Online and other nonstore retailers edged down month-to-month, which moderated year-to-year growth under 11% from robust 14% growth in prior months. (Other nonstore includes catalogs and TV home shopping.)
  • Sporting goods, hobby and other specialty stores again fell off significantly month-to-month—evidence of store consolidation and growing online penetration in these categories.
  • Clothing stores jumped 0.7% month-to-month, but remain down slightly by year-to-year and year-to-date measures.
  • Grocery stores picked up 0.4% month-to-month, but remain up by less than 2% year-to-year as falling food prices weigh on sales gains (see more about prices here).

See the table summary for more detail.

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