Strong U.S. retail sales reinforce December interest rate hike

November 15, 2016 09:02 AM

U.S. retail sales rose more than expected in October as households bought motor vehicles and a range of other goods, pointing to sustained economic strength that could allow the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates next month.

The Commerce Department said on Tuesday retail sales increased 0.8% last month, also boosted by demand for building materials likely as households cleaned up and made repairs in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.

Adding to the report's bullish tone, September retail sales were revised up to show a 1.0% increase instead of the previously reported 0.6% rise. The combined September and October sales gain was the largest two-month rise since early 2014. Sales were up 4.3% from a year ago.

Excluding automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services, retail sales jumped 0.8% last month after an upwardly revised 0.3% gain in September.

These so-called core retail sales, which correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product, were previously reported to have risen 0.1% in September.

Economists had forecast overall retail sales increasing 0.6% and core sales advancing 0.3% last month.

U.S. Treasuries extended losses on the report, while the dollar gained versus a basket of currencies. U.S. stock index futures rose slightly.


Sustained strength 

September's upward revision to core retail sales suggests that the economy's 2.9% annualized growth rate in the third quarter could be raised when the government publishes its second estimate later this month.

The retail sales report added to data this month showing a rapidly tightening labor market and signs of a turnaround in the manufacturing sector in underscoring the economy's strength at the start of the fourth quarter.

It also reinforced views that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates at its December 13-14 policy meeting. Rate hike prospects have also been boosted by a rally in U.S. stocks in the wake of the last week's election of Republican candidate Donald Trump as the next president.

The Fed this month left interest rates unchanged but said its monetary policy-setting committee "judges that the case for an increase in the federal funds rate has continued to strengthen." The U.S. central bank raised its benchmark overnight interest rate last December and has held it steady since, largely because of concerns over low inflation.

But inflation is creeping higher. A separate report on Tuesday from the Labor Department showed import prices increased 0.5% in October after gaining 0.2% in September. In the 12 months through October, import prices fell 0.2%, the smallest decrease since July 2014, after declining 1.0% in September.

Retail sales last month were driven by a 1.1% increase in auto sales, which followed a 1.9% jump in September. Retail sales also received a boost from receipts at service stations, which advanced 2.2% on rising gasoline prices.

Sales at building material stores increased 1.1% and receipts at online retailers surged 1.5%. Sales at

restaurants and bars, however, fell 0.7%, likely as the stormy weather kept people at home.

Receipts at sporting goods and hobby stores rose 1.3%. Households also spent more on clothing, groceries and grooming last month, but cut back on furniture.

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