After a limited decline in October, which was probably related to the Tropical Storm Sandy, US retail sales picked up in November. Retail sales rose by 0.3% in November, less than the expected 0.5% rebound. The details show a significant decline in gasoline station sales (-4.0% M/M), which was partly due to lower gasoline prices while also dislocations after Sandy might have had a negative impact. Also general merchandise (-0.9% M/M) and sales of food & beverages (-0.3% M/M) weakened in November. Poor sales in those categories were more than offset by strong sales of non-store retailers (3.0% M/M), electronics (2.5% M/M), building materials (1.6% M/M), motor vehicles & parts (1.4% M/M), furniture (1.0% M/M), clothing (0.9% M/M), eating & drinking (0.8% M/M), health & personal care (0.6% M/M) and sporting goods (0.5% M/M).
The details suggest that retail sales were partly boosted by rebuilding after Sandy, as sales of building materials, but also vehicle sales and sales of furniture were strong, although the Commerce Department said that Sandy had both negative and positive effects. Data also indicate that the Christmas shopping season took a strong start, with especially very strong non-store retail sales, showing the biggest jump since October 2011. The control group increased by 0.5% M/M and the previous figure was upwardly revised (from -0.1% M/M to 0.0% M/M). For now, it seems that uncertainty ahead of the fiscal cliff did not really weigh on consumer spending, but it remains to be seen whether spending held up in December as consumer confidence weakened sharply, according to the Michigan indicator.
In the week ending the 8th of December, US initial jobless claims extended their post-Sandy downtrend. Initial claims dropped from an upwardly revised 372 000 to 343 000, the lowest level in two months, while the consensus was looking for only a slight drop (to 369 000). The less volatile four-week moving average edged significantly down too, falling from 408 500 to 381 500. The Labour Department added that there was nothing unusual in last week’s claims data. Continuing claims, which are reported with an extra week lag, fell significantly too, to reach their lowest level in one month. Continuing claims dropped by 23 000 to 3 198 000 in the week ending the first of December, whole a decline to 3 210 000 was expected. After several distortions since mid-October, US jobless claims are now again at levels close to those seen almost two months ago, suggesting that the distortions might have faded. The claims data suggest that the underlying trend of the labour market remains fairly robust. In the coming weeks however, the claims might turn again a bit more volatile towards the end of the year.