Skip to main content

Despite a muted level of inflation, consumers pulled back on their spending in November, according to data released Thursday by the Commerce Department. Retail sales declined by 0.6% for the month, exceeding the Dow Jones estimate of a 0.3% decline. The number is not adjusted for inflation as gauged by the Labor Department’s consumer price index, which increased by 0.1% in November and was below expectations. Measures that exclude autos and both autos and gas sales showed 0.2% declines. Stocks fell sharply following a mostly disappointing round of economic data released Thursday morning. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was off nearly 500 points in early trading.

The pullback was widespread across categories. Furniture and home furnishings stores reported a decrease of 2.6%, building materials, and garden centers reported a decrease of 2.5%, and motor vehicle and parts dealers posted a decrease of 2.3%. Even with declining gas prices, service station sales were down just 0.1%. Online sales also decreased, falling 0.9%, while bars and restaurants increased 0.9%, and food and beverage stores rose 0.8%. On a year-over-year basis, retail sales increased by 6.5%, compared with a CPI inflation rate of 7.1%. “With weak global growth and the strong dollar compounding the domestic drag from higher interest rates, we suspect this weakness is a sign of things to come,” Andrew Hunter, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics, wrote of the retail report.