July Retail Sales Up, Growth Slows

SurveysAug 18, 2020

July Retail Sales Up, Growth Slows

Economists are wary of how retail will fare in August as the $600 unemployment boost expires and coronavirus cases rise.

U.S. retail sales were up 1.2 percent month-over-month in July.

New York—U.S. retail sales were on the rise in July as consumer spending rebounds, but growth was slower than previous months.

Retail sales were up 1.2 percent month-over-month in July to $536 billion, according to data from the U.S. Department of Commerce, climbing 2.7 percent year-over-year.

The monthly increase was slightly lower than the 2 percent jump economists had expected.

In June, sales were up 8.4 percent month-over-month, as per revised numbers, following an 18 percent jump in May.

In a press release about the results, National Retail Federation CEO Matthew Shay said the results were “another positive step in the right direction as our economy continues to slowly reopen.”

The NRF also calculates monthly retail sales, narrowing in on core retail and excluding auto sales, gas stations, and restaurants.

Its calculations show July sales were up 1 percent seasonally adjusted from June and up 10 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

Looking at the commerce department’s data by category, electronics and appliance stores saw the strongest sales gains in July, up 22.9 percent month-over-month, though sales were down 2.8 percent year-over-year.

The rise in working and learning from home sent computer sales higher while home improvement projects and higher home sales bolstered appliance sales.

Shay credited the overall increase to the “continued resilience” of shoppers and the demonstration by retailers that stores can be operated safely when following guidelines.

Shay also gave credit to the governmental actions taken to support the economy and encouraged elected officials to “enact policies that support consumers and keep the economy open.”

NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz highlighted the threat uncertainty poses to economic recovery.

“Retail sales are starting the third quarter on a solid footing considering the nosedive we saw this spring, but we have to remember that there’s uncertainty about economic policy and that the resurgence of the virus is putting pressure on the fledgling recovery,” he said.

Shoppers are spending money, but they are still anxious about their wealth and financial wellbeing, he added.

Looking to the second half of the year, forecasting can be difficult as what the economy does depends on “what the coronavirus allows us to do.”

Economists are wary of what August holds following the expiration of the $600 federal unemployment benefit. A surge in coronavirus cases has also led to layoffs and a delay in returning to work.

“Even with the unemployment rate above 10 percent, one-time stimulus payments for many households

and expanded unemployment insurance benefits have allowed consumers to boost their purchases, with sales higher than they were before the pandemic,” said Gus Faucher, chief economist of PNC Financial Services, in a press release about July retail sales.

The drying up of these payments would reduce household income by $70 billion in August, he said.

Faucher noted President Trump looked to restore some of the payments via an executive order, but it is unclear when the payments would be sent out and how many people they would reach.

“Passage of a new economic stimulus program will be vital to ensuring a strong economic recovery in the U.S.,” he added.

Discussions about a fifth coronavirus relief package have been ongoing, but an agreement between Democrats and Republicans has not yet been reached.

Congress is in recess, as it normally is in August, but could be recalled if a deal is reached.

Lenore Fedowis the associate editor, news at National Jeweler, covering the retail beat and the business side of jewelry.

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