Strong November Retail Sales Hidden in Latest Results

Retail spending slowed in November, according to the latest government data. Or did it really?

While the seasonally adjusted sales data suggest moderating growth, the unadjusted data suggest a strong November at the expense of a weak October—that consumers held back in October to take advantage of November holiday deals.

Here’s what the data say:Monthly retail sales trends and insights

  • Seasonally adjusted retail growth moderated to 3.6% in November and October’s strong growth was revised downward (+4.1%).Retail Sales Quarterly Trend
  • Unadjusted retail growth accelerated to 5.1% in November while October’s unadjusted gain was revised downward to 1.9% growth. This data suggest strong holiday-related sales at the expense of October sales.

Looking at October and November combined suggests that retail sales growth is reverting to a quarterly trend pace between 3.5% and 4.0%—which roughly has been the range of growth of the past year.

In other words, a holiday-related jump in November sales—a healthy “Black” November”—may end up being a blip amid otherwise modest sales gains for the holiday period as a whole.

What may keep sales elevated, however, is the post-election jump in spending confidence (see post here). That jump was driven primarily by Boomers while Millennials lagged, which may start to explain November’s mixed performance.

Note that the retail sales measures referenced are for sales excluding autos, food service, and fuel. For that retail measure, MacroSavvy™ has forecast a 3.5% holiday gain. See the details here.

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