US retail sales stalled between August and September, indicating that consumer confidence may be waning in light of the escalating trade war.
Total purchases for September — excluding automobiles, gasoline and restaurants — dipped 0.1% compared to the previous month, according to data the National Retail Federation (NRF) published Wednesday. However, with the month also seeing 4.5% year-on-year growth, the NRF noted that the trade situation might not be the only trigger for the recent slowdown.
“The pullback in September compared with August is possibly a reaction to increased fears over US-China tensions,” said NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz. “[But] while uncertainty around trade policy and other issues has dampened consumer sentiment recently, consumers still have a lot going for them, as evidenced by longer-term trends and factors like the tight labor market.”
He added that September was a “tricky month to measure” because of seasonal factors including the end of summer and back-to-school spending. “This year’s early Labor Day may have [also] moved up some spending into the last days of August,” he noted.
The NRF expects a surge in imports at the US’s major retail container ports ahead of the next raft of tariffs in December, it said in a separate report last week.
Its latest Global Port Tracker data show that the ports covered by its analysis handled 2 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEU) in August — up 0.2% versus July and 3.9% year on year.
But while the organization predicted accelerated growth in November, it warned these figures would decline as the new China trade tariffs took effect.
January 2020 is forecast at 1.9 million TEU, noted the NRF, down 1.9% from January 2019. February — traditionally the slowest month of the year because of Lunar New Year factory shutdowns in Asia — is forecast at 1.6 million TEU, 1.8% lower than the previous year.
Image: People on an escalator in a mall. (Shutterstock)