U.S. retail sales fell the most in 10 months in December, overwhelmed by shortages and mounting COVID-19 infections, which might dampen the expectations that the economic growth picked momentum in the fourth quarter.
Retail sales failed the expectations, plummeting 1.9% last month, marking the sharpest plunge since February 2021, reported the Commerce Department on Friday. The market was seeing only a 0.1% drop in December. However, in November, the forecast was revised to 0.2% from the initially reported 0.3% growth.
Excluding automobiles, sales dipped 2.3%, lagging the expectations for a 0.3% increase.
“The weakness in December was likely more about the timing of spending than the level,” said Scott Hoyt, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania. “Support is coming from job and income growth which is strong by pre-pandemic standards and abundant cash and available credit for many consumers.”
The consumer price index report released this week raised flags against rising inflation. The CPI increased 0.5% for the month, and 7% on a year-over-year basis, the rapid increase since June 1982.
Wholesale prices also rose to 9.6% in the past 12 months, marking the highest rise since a major change in the index in 2009.
Unadjusted sales jumped 10.0% in December after gaining 2.5% in the preceding month. Considering that the sales figures are unadjusted for inflation, the data suggested a poor end to what otherwise could have been a splendid year. Retail sales, which measures demand for durable and non-durable goods, rose 16.9% from the pandemic-stricken year.
Nonstore retailers reported the biggest fall of 8.7% for the month, with online spending taking a massive blow as a percentage of total spending. Furniture and home furnishing sales fell 5.5% while sporting goods, music and book stores sales plunged 4.3%.
The pandemic-induced supply chain disruptions and increased cases of covid infection are hurting the businesses and consumer sentiment.
The retail sales report reflects that Americans kicked off their holiday shopping in October to avoid empty shelves, which took away the sunshine from December. The cold sales season shall continue in January owing to the mounting tally of covid infection will limit the customers reaching places like restaurants and bars.
The only service category in the sales report–Restaurants and bars–plunged 0.8% for the month, which saw an annual gain of 41.3% in 2021.
Electronics and appliance stores sales fell 2.9%. Receipts at service stations dipped 0.7% as gasoline prices bounced back from the higher levels seen in recent months.
Sales at food and beverage stores plummeted 0.5%, and clothing stores sales dropped 3.1%. Only two categories came in the positive territory–miscellaneous store retailers, which grew 1.8% and building materials and gardening centers, which rose 0.9% during the month.
“Consumer spending will remain the cornerstone of economic growth this year, but the near-term path will be choppy amid surging Omicron cases,” said Lydia Boussour, lead U.S. economist at Oxford Economics. Boussour believes after a weak first quarter, spending should rebound in the spring on the back of wage growth and savings.