WASHINGTON – Retail sales were up across the board in January as overall numbers beat economists’ expectations, the Commerce Department’s monthly report showed Wednesday.
Sales at apparel and accessories stores rose a seasonally adjusted 1 percent to $21.6 billion, while sales at department stores increased 1.2 percent to $12.7 billion. Sales at general merchandise stores, a category that includes department stores and discounters, rose 0.9 percent to $55.8 billion.
Non-store sales, which have been outpacing brick and mortar stores, were flat last month.
In the overall economy, retail sales increased 0.4 percent to $472.1 billion, well ahead of economists’ expectations.
“Gasoline stations led the way, but there many other strong categories including electronics, appliances, sporting goods, hobby stores, restaurants and department and apparel specialty retailers,” said Scott Hoyt, senior director of consumer economics at Moody’s Analytics.
Moody’s had forecast a overall retail sales to be flat or down 0.1 percent. He said the report suggests that the “economy is continuing to expand at a good clip and consumers are leading the way.”
For specialty stores, the jump in January sales marked the third straight months of sales gains.
“It’s by far the biggest in 11 months and the year-over-year trend has been slightly positive,” Hoyt said.
But he noted that many of the comparisons in January this year were against sales declines in January 2016, which were driven primarily by winter storms. January weather this year was much milder.
Hoyt said the January increase in department store sales was “more of a blip than a sign of strength.” He said sales in the category are down 3.2 percent compared with a year earlier and noted that the outlook is “pretty weak with sales moving online and the store closures we are anticipating this year.”
Non-store retail sales were flat in January but up 12 percent against a year earlier.
“The retail industry started the year on a high note, continuing the momentum from the 2016 holiday season. The healthy monthly gain was driven by January’s strong payroll gains, retail employment gains and business sentiment,” said Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist at the National Retail Federation. “We haven’t seen strong January growth in several years, which indicates that consumers are increasing their spending and remain the leading driver of the economy.”