Retail sales slowed in October but fundamentally remain solid. Sales rose only 0.1 percent. But when excluding vehicles, which slipped back after surging in prior months, and when also excluding gasoline stations, where sales once again fell on price weakness, core sales rose a respectable 0.3 percent which hits the consensus.
And there are solid gains – including housing-related components of furniture & home furnishings and building materials & garden equipment. Nonstore retailers also show a strong gain as do restaurants.
Aside from vehicles and gas, other areas that declined are electronics & appliance stores, grocery stores, and the big category of general merchandise sales. Declines in the latter may be related to import-price effects which are deflating sales. A positive, however, is a gain for department stores which are a subset of general merchandise. Apparel sales, which are definitely being held down by import prices, were unchanged following two small declines.
Year-on-year a respectable plus 4.1 percent rate for sales excluding gasoline stations, a component that is down 20.1 percent and has been badly skewing total sales all year. Total sales are up only 1.7 percent.
The headline is weak and year-on-year rates did ease off, including for core ex-auto ex-gas to plus 3.5 from 3.8 percent, but this report is better than it looks, showing underlying strength that shouldn’t scale down expectations for a December FOMC rate hike.