July spending pickup muted by e-commerce impact

Retail sales gains firmed up in July, but except for e-commerce the year-to-date trends remain weak at brick and mortar stores—and especially at apparel and department stores.

The July pickup was predicted by the latest measure of consumers’ confidence to spend over the next 90 days, which moved higher in July among Millennial and Gen X households. See more here.

Gains in July were led by e-commerce, which built on its 16% second-quarter growth pace—the strongest quarterly e-commerce growth in five years. (See this post, for the big-picture e-commerce impact.)

Here is more on what the latest retail numbers say:

  • Monthly trend. After sinking below 3.5% growth in June, sales in July edged higher on an unadjusted basis (+3.5%) and accelerated on a seasonally adjusted basis (+4.1%) at retail channels excluding autos, fuel and restaurants.
  • Quarterly trend. The July pickup supports positive signs in the second quarter—outside of the weak June results—that retail sales are on an improving trend from a weak fourth quarter of 2016. That said, the upper end of the trend appears stuck in a 3.5% to 4.0% range.
  • Annual trend. 2017 is shaping up to be a below-average growth year across a number of (unadjusted) measures. Restaurant and auto sales have slowed significantly—although they still remain healthier than traditional retail segments (excluding restaurants and autos).
  • E-commerce vs. in store. Weaker year-to-date growth is focused at apparel and department stores, where sales are declining (primarily at department stores). Food, drug and mass retail stores also are weaker compared with 2016. Homegoods stores are the only retail sector outside of e-commerce registering a sales pickup in 2017.

The latest data suggest that the year-to-date retail sales pace is running below the stronger pace forecast for 2017—by half a percentage point in seasonally adjusted terms and shy of a full percentage point in unadjusted terms.

MacroSavvy™ has forecast a 2017 gain of 4.0% in retail sales excluding autos, fuel and restaurants, which would be slightly stronger than 2016.

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