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January retail sales numbers are mixed to begin 2024

Commerce reported that January retail sales, at $700.3 billion, were off 0.8% compared to December and up 0.6% compared to January 2023. NRF reported that January’s core retail sales, which it bases on Census data and excludes automobile dealers, gasoline stations, and restaurants, fell 0.8%, from December to January, while increasing 2.8% annually.

January retail sales numbers started 2024 with mixed readings, according to data respectively issued today by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Census Bureau and the National Retail Federation (NRF).

Commerce reported that January retail sales, at $700.3 billion, were off 0.8% compared to December and up 0.6% compared to January 2023. Total retail sales, from November through January, increased 3.1% compared to the same period a year ago.

January retail trade sales fell 1.1% compared to December and were off 0.2% annually. Non-store retailers, which includes e-commerce, saw a 6.4% annual gain.

NRF reported that January’s core retail sales, which it bases on Census data and excludes automobile dealers, gasoline stations, and restaurants, fell 0.8%, from December to January, while increasing 2.8% annually. And it added that core retail sales increased 3.2% on an unadjusted basis annually on a three-month moving average.

What’s more, NRF said that this data matches up with the CNBC/NRF Retail Monitor released earlier this week, which reported total retail sales, excluding automobiles and gasoline, were down 0.16% seasonally adjusted month over month and up 2.34% unadjusted year over year in January, compared with increases of 0.44% month over month and 3.07% year over year in December. The Retail Monitor calculation of core retail sales—excluding restaurants in addition to autos and gas—was down a slim 0.04% month over month and up 3.24% year over year in January. That compared with increases of 0.19% month over month and 2.4 year over year in December.

“Retail sales softened in January compared with the holiday season, but consumers were still engaged,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said in a statement. “Extreme weather likely disrupted product demand and consumption patterns. January prices for goods came down, which affects sales figures even if the same number of items are sold, and increased prices for services pulled dollars away from retail purchases. Nonetheless, January’s numbers point to the U.S. economy and labor market continuing to chug along.”