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Kimberly Amadeo

High Gas Prices Drive Positive Retail Sales Report

By September 20, 2012

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U.S. retail sales rose .9% in August, reaching $406.9 billion,  according to the most recent report from the Commerce Department. High gas prices reared their ugly heads again, with gas station store sales up 5.5%. Other increases were in new vehicles (1.7%) and building supply stores (up 1%). All other sectors saw less than 1% gains, were flat or even down for the month. The Retail Sales report does not adjust for inflation, so total sales reflect higher prices as well as increased demand.

Sales were more robust when compared year-over-year. Comparing economic statistics to the prior year rules out seasonal changes. Here's the breakdown, ranked by the sectors that grew the most in the last year:

  • Car dealers -- 12.3%.
  • Online sales -- 10.6% increase over last year.
  • Furniture stores -- 8.4%.
  • Restaurants -- 6.7%.
  • Sporting goods/hobby stores -- 5.8%.
  • Clothing stores -- 5.8%.
  • Gas stations -- 2.5%
  • Building and garden supply stores -- 1.4%.
  • Health/beauty stores -- .7%.
  • Department stores -- .1% for the last 12 months.

Electronics and appliance stores continued their downward trend (2.3% decrease), as the pummeling from online competition continues.  since last year. This is because of competition from online. (Source: U.S. Commerce Dept, "U.S. Retail Sales," September 14, 2012)

What It Means to You

Stronger retail sales is a big component for GDP growth for the third quarter (July - September). Although positive (and we'll take it!), a .9% increase means GDP will probably still come in at between 1-2%. We'll find out in early November (right before the election), when the advance Q3 GDP report will be released.

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