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Clothing helps US retail sales bounce back in January

A rise in sales at US clothing retailers has helped retail sales rebound in January following an unexpected drop in December, new figures show.

January retail sales increased 1.3% seasonally adjusted over December and 3.6% unadjusted year-over-year, according to NRF figures.

The numbers, which exclude automobiles, gasoline stations and restaurants, include a 6.3% rise year-over-year in online and other non-store sales, which were up 2.6% on December seasonally adjusted.

Sales at clothing and clothing accessory stores increased 2.1% year-over-year but were down 1.3% from December, while sales at sporting goods stores tumbled 6.2% year-over-year but were up 4.8% seasonally adjusted from last month.

The January numbers follow an unexpected revised 0.1% drop in December year-over-year. November – the first half of the holiday season – grew 5.1% unadjusted year-over-year. NRF does not count October as part of the holiday season, but much holiday shopping has shifted earlier, and October was up 5.7% year-over-year.

"Retail sales recovered in January after the unexpected drop in December, reinforcing a positive start to 2019," NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said. "American consumers regained confidence as concerns over the government shutdown and stock market volatility faded and trade talks moved in a positive direction. Although some hesitancy is still lingering, it is good to see consumer spending showing traction given the concerns on the minds of American families last month. We expect higher wages and low unemployment to continue to promote consumer confidence in the year ahead."

As of January, the three-month moving average was up 2.7% over the same period a year ago.

"Retail sales in December were revised even lower, but these figures remain suspect given the reporting delays caused by the government shutdown," Kleinhenz added. "The January rebound further calls into question the accuracy and reliability of the December data. The processing of the delayed data is still unclear, and the volatility of the figures reported is difficult to explain at this point."

NRF's numbers are based on data from the US Census Bureau, which said that overall January sales – including auto dealers, gas stations and restaurants – were up 0.2% seasonally adjusted from December and up 2.3% unadjusted year-over-year.

The results come as NRF is forecasting that 2019 retail sales will grow between 3.8-4.4% to more than US$3.8 trillion. The forecast will be monitored and subject to revision as more data is released in the coming months.

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