Retail sales in the U.S. rose in November as demand for automobiles rebounded and holiday shoppers snapped up electronics and clothes.
The 0.3 percent gain followed a 0.3 percent decrease in October, Commerce Department figures showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 81 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a 0.5 percent rise. The biggest drop in service-station receipts in four years, reflecting lower fuel costs, restrained the gain in total purchases.
Car sales jumped last month to a four-year high, in part because Americans in Sandy’s path replaced damaged vehicles. Federal Reserve policy makers yesterday expanded stimulus in a bid to reduce unemployment and spur the economy as chains such as Macy’s Inc. cut prices to lure customers increasingly concerned about looming tax increases and government cutbacks.
“The details look pretty solid,” said Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics Inc. in West Chester, Pennsylvania. “The consumer is continuing to support the recovery, which is important because identifying the sources of growth is becoming increasingly difficult. The burden is really starting to fall on the consumer.”
Other reports today showed claims for jobless benefits fell more than forecast last week and producer prices dropped in November as energy costs retreated.
Applications for unemployment insurance payments dropped by 29,000 to 343,000 in the week ended Dec. 8, the fewest since reaching a four-year low in early October, Labor Department figures showed. Economists forecast 369,000 claims, according to the Bloomberg survey median.
The producer price index declined 0.8 percent last month, the most since May, after falling 0.2 percent in October, other Labor Department figures also showed. The core measure, which excludes volatile food and energy, increased 0.1 percent after falling 0.2 percent.
Stock-index futures were little changed after the reports. The contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index maturing this month rose fell than 0.1 percent to 1,426.3 at 8:54 a.m. in New York.
Economists’ estimates in the Bloomberg survey ranged from gains of 0.1 percent to 2 percent. The reading for October was unrevised.
Ten of 13 major categories showed gains last month, led by a 1.4 percent increase at auto dealers, a 2.5 percent jump at electronics outlets and a 0.9 percent gain at clothing stores.
Cars and light trucks sold in November at a 15.5 million annual rate, the fastest pace since February 2008 and up from 14.2 million in October when Sandy kept East Coast shoppers away during auto dealers’ busiest time of the month, according to Ward’s Automotive Group. Ford Motor Co. deliveries of cars and light trucks climbed 6.4 percent and General Motors Co. sales gained 3.4 percent, the companies said Dec. 3.
Retail sales excluding autos were little changed for a second month, today’s report showed, matching the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg.
One of the weaker categories last month was general merchandise stores, where sales dropped 0.9 percent.
Sales at Macy’s, the second-biggest U.S. department-store company, fell 0.7 percent, while the average projection from analysts surveyed by Retail Metrics called for an increase. Kohl’s Corp. of Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, said same-store sales dropped 5.6 percent, also in contrast to estimates for a gain.
Filling-station sales fell 4 percent, the biggest decrease since December 2008, as cheaper gasoline held back receipts. The Commerce Department’s retail sales data aren’t adjusted for prices. The average cost of a gallon of gasoline was $3.44 in November, down from $3.70 in October, according to AAA, the largest U.S. auto organization.
Sales at building-material stores climbed 1.6 percent, in part reflecting improved demand on rebuilding efforts along the East Coast following superstorm Sandy.
The Commerce Department said it wasn’t able to quantify the effects of Sandy. The agency said respondents reported both positive and negative effects from the storm.
Excluding autos, gasoline and building materials, which are the figures used to calculate gross domestic product, sales climbed 0.5 percent in November after being little changed in the previous month.
Household spending is unlikely to accelerate without faster hiring. Payrolls rose by 146,000 in November following a revised 138,000 increase in October that was less than initially estimated, figures showed last week.
Americans also face the possibility of more than $600 billion in tax increases and government spending cuts next year unless lawmakers act to avert the so-called fiscal cliff.
Fed policy makers yesterday said the central bank will buy $45 billion a month of Treasury securities starting in January, expanding its asset-purchase program, and linked the outlook for its main interest rate to unemployment and inflation.
“The committee remains concerned that, without sufficient policy accommodation, economic growth might not be strong enough to generate sustained improvement in labor-market conditions,” they said in the statement.