Retail sales jumped higher in September, indicating that consumer spending accelerated even coronavirus infection case numbers rose and business continued to layoff thousands of workers.
The U.S. Commerce Department reported Friday that retail sales jumped 1.9 percent compared with August, when sales increased sixth-tenths of a percent from the previous months.
Perhaps more impressive is that the pace of gains is accelerating after five months of consecutive gains. Economists had expected sales to rise just eight-tenths of a percentage point, less than half the actual gain.
Sales in several categories are up from the year-ago levels, indicating a full recovery from the pandemic recession. What’s more, even in categories where sales remain below the year-ago level, the decline is contracting.
Sales are auto dealerships and parts stores rose 3.6 percent. These are up 10.6 percent compared with a year ago. Sales at stores selling books, camping gear, sporting goods, and other hobby goods rose 5.7 percent and are up 14.4 percent annually.
Clothing store sales boomed, rising 11 percent. These sales, however, remain well below the year-ago level. But even on the annual measure, there is progress, as the gap with the previous year has been contracting. In August, sales were up 1.4 percent from the previous month and down 21.2 percent from the period 12-months earlier.
Department store sales jumped 9.7 percent. And again, the year over year comparisons are improving. Sales were down 7.3 percent on the year, an improvement from the 16.8 percent decline posted in August.
Sales at bars and restaurants rose 2.1 percent. These are still 14.4 percent down from the year-ago levels, an improvement from the 15.7 percent decline posted in August.
The only major category to post a decline was appliance and computer stores, where sales fell 1.5 percent on a monthly level. This might be a hangover from the pandemic buying spree this category saw in the spring, when many homes geared up to facilitate working and schooling from home. Alternatively, this could reflect a competitive environment that saw retailers discount computers and appliances. Prices on computers fell 4.1 percent in September and prices of major appliances declined two percent, according to the Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index data.