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April 2, 2019

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Consumers put brakes on retail sales in US

US consumer spending hit the brakes in February, with retail sales sinking unexpectedly in the middle of the year’s first quarter, official data showed yesterday.

However, the decline followed upward revisions to sales in January, allowing some hopes for a recovery after a bleak December.

The weaker-than-expected sales could weigh on growth at the start of 2019, which economists expect will be sharply slower than in previous quarters.

Total retail sales fell 0.2 percent from January to a seasonally adjusted US$506 billion. Economists had expected a 0.2 percent increase.

This still left February retail sales 2.2 percent higher year on year.

Officials also caution that the monthly results are subject to broad margins of error and can be revised significantly.

Auto sales were a bright spot for the month, masking a steep pull-back in sales of electronics, building materials, groceries and clothing. But excluding autos, sales fell an even steeper 0.4 percent.

Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics cautioned against reading too much into the weak numbers, saying worker pay was still rising strongly.

“These are not conditions in which spending slows indefinitely, so we expect a much better second quarter once the transition from last year’s binge is over,” he said in a research not to clients.


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