The final push for holiday shopping is here. You have a mere 11 days to brave the mall or place your online order. When all the numbers are tallied, this should prove to be a lucrative year for retailers. In November, Americans ramped up their purchases of electronics, clothes and even cars. The Commerce Department announced that retails sales rose 0.3% to a seasonally adjusted $412.4 billion. This represents a 3.7% jump over November 2011.
Remember back to October, when retail sales dropped 0.3% on disruptions caused by super storm Sandy. In November, the effects of Sandy started to dissipate. On the one hand, Sandy continued to impact sales by closing some stores in the Northeast, but that was offset by local residents purchasing more supplies to recover from the damage. Sales of building materials advanced 1.6% while furniture and home furnishing sales jumped 1%. Americans also turned out in record numbers to buy new cars: Car sales jumped to a four-year high.
Of course, November brought the usual rush of holiday gift shopping as electronics and appliance sales jumped 2.5% while clothing and accessories sales advanced 0.9%. However, November sales still grew less than the 0.6% forecast by economists. The Grinch in this number is gas prices. The average price of gas dropped 7% from October to November—but I’m not complaining.
Excluding the impact of sales at gas stations, car dealers and building supply stores, core retail sales rose 0.5%. This is good news because core sales (a more reliable measure of retail growth) were flat in October. This was a decent report, but I expect things to pick up even more in December. The National Retail Federation forecasts a 4.1% jump in total holiday sales and the past few years have shown that retail sales tend to really gain momentum in December and January.
Economists estimate that the American consumer is responsible for about two-thirds of the U.S. economy, so I can’t stress how important keeping track of these numbers is. So I’ll continue to keep an eye out for how holiday sales are doing and see if this presents any investing opportunities in this daily blog.