US retail sales rise as wholesale inflation slows in December

NEW YORK: US retail sales rebounded in the final month of 2016, but driven almost entirely by autos, while wholesale inflation slowed slightly in the world’s largest economy, the government reported on Friday. Consumers spent the most since April for light trucks and cars, the Commerce Department report showed, but spending on anything besides autos was nearly flat. The figures also pointed to a continuation of consumer trends in shopping, with online businesses seeing rising sales, while department stores moved fewer goods off the shelves. On a seasonally adjusted basis, sales in retail and food services rose 0.6 per cent in December to $469.1 billion, far faster than the 0.2 per cent rise in November, but slightly below an analyst consensus forecast.

December sales were 4.1 per cent higher than the same month in 2015, and sales for the whole year, were up 3.3 per cent over 2015. Motor vehicles and parts dealers saw the strongest monthly gains, with sales jumping 2.4 per cent, the fastest monthly gain in eight months. But excluding autos, retail sales grew at a far more tepid pace of 0.2 per cent. Non-store retailers — such as online marketplaces and mail-order vendors — saw gains of 1.3 per cent but department stores went in the opposite direction, falling 0.6 per cent in December. Restaurants and bars also had a slump with business falling 0.8 per cent, the biggest drop since January 2016.

In a separate report, the National Retail Federation said holiday retail sales in November and December rose four per cent over the same period in 2015 to $658.3 billion, with “non-store” sales rising nearly 13 per cent. NRF President Matthew Shay said the numbers showed the current economic recovery was gaining pace and that “consumers feel good about the future.” An index of consumer sentiment published on Friday by the University of Michigan fell slightly for January to a preliminary estimate of 98.1 after surging in December. — Reuters