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U.S. retail sales rose in October at slowest pace in six months
InternationalNov 18. 2020
By Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg · Katia Dmitrieva · BUSINESS
U.S. retail sales rose in October at the slowest pace in six months, suggesting consumers are becoming more hesitant amid a surging pandemic and lack of fresh federal stimulus.
The value of total sales increased 0.3% from the prior month, when there was a downwardly revised 1.6% gain, Commerce Department figures showed Tuesday. The median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for a 0.5% increase. Excluding autos and gasoline, sales rose 0.2%, compared with estimates for a 0.6% gain.
Weaker momentum in consumer spending — which accounts for two-thirds of the economy — indicates growth could slow more sharply following the third quarter’s record jump in gross domestic product. November and December could prove tougher with states and cities reimposing restrictions on indoor dining and nonessential business to contain a rampant coronavirus, while hopes for additional fiscal stimulus this year keep fading and political uncertainty hangs over government policy.
U.S. stock futures and 10-year Treasury yields extended declines after the data. Other data Tuesday morning are due to deliver additional readings on the U.S. economy, including industrial production for October and home builder sentiment for November.
The subdued government figures follow strong quarterly results earlier Tuesday from two large retailers — Home Depot Inc. and Walmart Inc. Home Depot’s comparable sales jumped 24.1% in the latest quarter from a year ago as the home-improvement retailer benefited from a surge in renovation activity, while Walmart’s sales also climbed more than projected as online demand soared at the world’s largest retailer.
The retail report provides a snapshot of activity in October: eight of the 13 major retail categories decreased, led by clothing and sporting goods and hobby stores. Nonstore retailers — which include online vendors like Amazon.com Inc. — recorded the biggest increase, at 3.1%.
Restaurants and bars recorded the first decline since the initial depths of the pandemic in April, a sign that colder weather is discouraging the outdoor dining that kept many businesses afloat during the summer.
So-called control group sales — often a more reliable gauge of underlying demand — increased 0.1% from the prior month, missing forecasts. That figure excludes food services, car dealers, building-materials stores and gasoline stations.
While overall retail sales rose 5.7% from a year earlier, several categories remain well below pre-pandemic levels, including gasoline stations, clothing stores and restaurants.
The data point to spending that’s moderating at the start of the fourth quarter as coronavirus cases rise in every U.S. state, prompting some, including California and New Jersey, to issue new restrictions. Other regions have paused full reopenings.
Early trials from companies including Moderna Inc. have proven effective, though a vaccine must be developed and deployed in scale before consumers feel comfortable enough to regain regular activity. In the meantime, an elevated savings rate is likely to continue supporting some spending.