The U.S. Census Bureau recently released its figures for retail sales and food service in January 2012. Consumer spending on post-holiday sales helped to boost sales by 0.4% from December 2011, but the increase was smaller than hoped. The survey covers different kinds of retail establishments that sell goods and services to consumers.
January Sales Figures: January’s sales amount to $401.4 billion, which was a 5.8% increase over January 2011. Similarly, the November through January sales were up 6.3% from the same time period in 2011. The retail sales portion of the statistics show that retail sales were up 0.4% from December 2011 and 5.5% from this time last year. Food and drink services increased 8.2% from January 2011.
Auto sales were one of the weakest components of the figures with an increase of only 1.1% following a more robust 2.5% in December 2011. Gasoline sales increased 1.4% following a 2.6% drop in December. Excluding autos and gasoline, retail sales increased 0.6%, after a reduction of 0.2% in December.
The Census Bureau’s retail and food service figures are based on a random sample of about 5,000 retail and food establishments that are used to represent the more than 3 million retail businesses in the U.S. The firms surveyed account for around 65% of the total dollar volume estimate.
Why Consumers Care: Retail sales account for two-thirds of the total U.S. economy, so these figures have a big impact on the U.S. economy as a whole, particularly the stock market. Investors look to these survey results as a way of gauging how the economy is doing and how confident consumers are with their economic situation. If the economy is showing robust growth, investors are more likely to feel confident investing their money. In addition, strong retail growth gives a boost to stocks, while having a negative influence on bonds because of fears of inflation. Knowing which retail sectors showed strong and weak growth also helps to guide investors’ decisions about where to invest their money.
Predictions: The January sales figures came in at lower than most economists’ predictions. In a Bloomberg survey of 75 economists, predictions ranged from no change to 2%, with a median prediction of 0.8% — double the actual figures. The sluggish figures indicate that consumers are spending, but are being cautious in their spending.