Retail Pulled Off Strongest Holiday in Years Despite Apocalypse Narrative

Retail Pulled Off Strongest Holiday in Years Despite Apocalypse Narrative

Despite December's solid numbers, most categories of retailers did better in November than in December.

The increase in retail sales was partly due to 1.2% sales growth at both building material and supplies dealers and non-store retailers.

General merchandise stores increased 4.3 percent.

Retail trade sales were up 0.3% from November 2017, and were up 5.6% from a year ago. The nation's unemployment rate is at a 17-year low, and wages are inching up, giving consumers enough confidence to fill their carts, whether in stores or online.

Retail Sales Grew 0.4% in December

There were $495.4 billion in retail and food service sales in December, up 0.4% from the previous month and 5.4% from December 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. These so-called core retail sales are the most consistent with the consumer spending element of gross domestic product (GDP). Nonstore retailer sales are up 12.7% year-over-year as online retailers continue to grow their market share. The season came on the heels of the three strongest monthly year-over-year gains for retail sales since the fourth quarter of 2014, nominal disposable personal income was up a combined 3.5% year-over-year in October and November, and consumers were feeling better about using their credit cards, with outstanding balances up 6% year-over-year.

There were increases in every retail category except sporting goods during the holiday season, which NRF defines as November 1 through December 31. Spending could get a boost from last month' $1.5 trillion package of tax cuts that was passed by the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress and then signed into law by President Trump. Bon-Ton Stores, like many other retailers, has faced challenges as customers shifted from brick-and-mortar and mall shopping toward online retailing, and The Wall Street Journal has reported the chain has considered a possible bankruptcy filing. Among the top 30 cities, Philadelphia ranked No. 12 in terms of total dollars spent in November and December.

But there was also some bad news in Friday's report, which showed sales fell 1.6 percent at sporting goods stores and 0.3 percent at clothing stores.

The confidence will likely continue into this year, especially as shoppers look to spend year-end bonuses and any windfall from tax changes, Saunders said. Spending was up at furniture sellers, grocery stores and restaurants.

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