Retail sales at the headline level flopped badly in September in what for third-quarter GDP, however, may be a head fake as control group sales, which are inputs into personal consumption expenditures, rose solidly.
Total retail sales inched only 0.1 percent higher which is below Econoday's low estimate. Auto sales, perhaps boosted by replacement demand following Hurricane Florence's strike on the Carolinas, jumped 0.8 percent following a long run of poor results. Contracting sharply, however, were sales at gasoline stations, down 0.8 percent following a strong gain in August, and also restaurants which had been very strong in prior months but plunged 1.8 percent in what may be another hurricane effect.
When excluding restaurants and gasoline stations and also autos and building materials, control group sales actually rose 0.5 percent which is at the high end of expectations. Some of this strength is offset by a 1 tenth downward revision to August to no change but, with July holding at a very strong 0.8 percent gain, still keeps consumer spending alive for the third quarter.
Building materials were neutral in the report with only a 0.1 percent rise. Losers in the month were health & personal care stores, down 0.3 percent, and department stores at minus 0.8 percent. Gainers included nonstore retailers, up 1.1 percent and again reflecting strength for e-commerce, and also furniture stores which also rose 1.1 percent.
This is a mixed report but is probably best assessed by the year-on-year rate for control sales, which is unchanged at a strong 4.9 percent. Special factors and unusual swings aside, the consumer continues to contribute solidly to economic growth.