Seasonally adjusted retail and food service sales were flat last month compared with August, according to the Census Bureau’s latest reading of monthly sales. (According to a separate report from the Labor Department on Thursday, prices across the economy rose 8.2 percent over the same period — an increase that before this year had not been seen since the early ’80s).
Economists had penciled in a 0.2 percent sales gain for the month, with the shortfall signaling that although household balance sheets are strong and unemployment is low, inflation and the threat of recession are taking their toll.
Department store sales rose 1.3 percent from August and apparel and accessories specialty store sales increased 0.5 percent. Non-store retailers — a category dominated by e-commerce — also rose 0.5 percent.
The adjusted month-to-month figures factor out seasonal variations and holidays, but not price changes to give a snapshot of the current consumer environment.
Compared with a year ago consumers are spending much more, with total sales up 8.2 percent, driven by a 20.6 percent increase at gas stations and a 6.8 percent rise at grocery stores.
Matthew Shay, president and chief executive officer of the National Retail Federation, pointed to the year-over-year gain as a sign of strength, but also alluded to the pressures being felt by consumers and stores and made a bid for help from Washington.
“September retail sales confirm that even with rising interest rates, persistent inflation, political uncertainty and volatile global markets, consumers are spending for household priorities,” Shay said. “As we enter the holiday season, shoppers are increasingly seeking deals and discounts to make their dollars stretch, and retailers are already meeting this demand. However, the Biden administration must enact policy measures to relieve inflationary pressure and lower costs for American families. While the Federal Reserve tackles long-term actions meant to end inflation, we believe removing China tariffs, enacting smart immigration reform to address the worker shortage, and increasing investments in supply chain resiliency can and will have an immediate impact on consumers and the economy.”
Year-over-year, fashion specialty store sales were up 3.1 percent in September while department store sales inched ahead 1.8 percent. Non-store retail sales were up 11.6 percent from a year earlier in September.
While inflation has been most severe in the energy and food sectors, both of which are impacted by the war in Ukraine, fashion has also been pushed higher by COVID-19 supply chain backups and demand.
September fashion prices — including apparel, footwear and accessories — were up 5.5 percent from a year earlier, with women’s apparel up 7.3 percent, men’s apparel up 3.9 percent and footwear up 3.9 percent.