Holiday spending has gotten off to a promising start.
Excluding automobiles, gasoline stations and restaurants, retail sales rose 0.7 percent in November and were 5 percent higher when compared to a year ago, official figures showed, cheering retailers as Christmas approaches. The numbers included Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
“This is a good start to the holiday season,” National Retail Federation chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said, citing stronger employment, improved wages, tax cuts and increased net worth. “Consumer spending remains solid and clearly provides evidence that the economy is healthy as we head into 2019.”
The numbers, however, were not enough to boost investors, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average closing down 496.87 points, or 2.02 percent, to 24,100.51 on the back of worries over global growth.
The NRF is predicting that holiday retail sales during November and December will rise between 4.3 percent and 4.8 percent over the same period in 2017 for a total between $717.45 billion and $720.89 billion.
A breakdown of the data found that sales at general merchandise stores, which includes department stores, were up 4.2 percent year-over-year and 0.4 percent on the month. Clothing and clothing accessory stores sales, meanwhile, were up 4.1 percent annually, but down 0.2 percent compared with October.
But while the data was promising, Charlie O’Shea, lead retail analyst at Moody’s, erred on the side of caution when it came to the impact on retailer’s earnings, stating that the key factor will be the ‘deepness’ of promotions necessary to drive these favorable sales results, “which is to be determined.”
Economists are mixed over retailers’ fortunes for 2019, with some predicting that the strong consumer spending trend will continue, while others argue it will start to run out of steam on the back of rising interest rates and the trade war between the U.S. and China.
The latter is a big unknown right now as the two countries are locked in a 90-day-long negotiation. If an agreement can’t be reached, President Donald Trump, who has dubbed himself “Tariff Man,” has pledged to increase current levies on a raft of consumer-facing goods to 25 percent from 10 percent and indicated that more could be on their way.
“Along with the continued strength of the labor market, the boost to real incomes from the recent plunge in gasoline prices appears to be providing a big support to spending growth,” said Andrew Hunter, senior U.S. economist at consultancy Capital Economics. “Nonetheless, with the earlier boost from tax cuts now fading and rising interest rates likely to become an increasing drag, we still expect consumption growth to slow next year.”