August Retail Sales Grew 4.6 Percent Over Last Year But New Tariffs Present ‘Downside Risks’

WASHINGTON, September 13, 2019 – Retail sales were up 0.4 percent in August seasonally adjusted from July and up 4.6 percent unadjusted year-over-year, the National Retail Federation said today. The numbers exclude automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants.


“While consumer attitudes about the economy indicate some retreating optimism, the bottom line is that consumer spending remained resilient in August and continued to be a key contributor to U.S. economic growth,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “Trends remain strong, but August grew somewhat slower than July, which could reflect consumers’ concerns about the unpredictability of trade policy. It is too early to assess the impact of the new tariffs that took effect at the beginning of this month, but they do present downside risks to household spending.”

New 15 percent tariffs on a wide range of consumer goods from China took effect September 1 and are scheduled to be expanded to additional goods on December 15, covering a total of about $300 billion in imports. In addition, 25 percent tariffs already in effect on $250 billion worth of imports are set to increase to 30 percent on October 15.

As of August, the three-month moving average was up 4.1 percent over the same period a year ago, compared with 3.5 percent in July. August’s results build on gains of 0.9 percent month-over-month and 5.5 percent year-over-year in July.

NRF’s numbers are based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which said today that overall August sales – including auto dealers, gas stations and restaurants – were up 0.4 percent seasonally adjusted from July and up 4.1 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

Specifics from key retail sectors during August include:

  • Online and other non-store sales were up 14.3 percent year-over-year and up 1.6 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
  • Grocery and beverage stores were up 4.9 percent year-over-year but down 0.2 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
  • Sporting goods stores were up 3.8 percent year-over-year and up 0.9 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
  • Health and personal care stores were up 2.9 percent year-over-year and up 0.7 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
  • Clothing and clothing accessory stores were up 2.3 percent year-over-year but down 0.9 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
  • General merchandise stores were up 2.2 percent year-over-year but down 0.3 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
  • Furniture and home furnishings stores were down 0.1 percent year-over-year and down 0.5 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
  • Building materials and garden supply stores were down 0.6 percent year-over-year but up 1.4 percent month-over-month seasonally adjusted.
  • Electronics and appliance stores were down 2.9 percent year-over-year and unchanged month-over-month seasonally adjusted.

About NRF
The National Retail Federation, the world’s largest retail trade association, passionately advocates for the people, brands, policies and ideas that help retail thrive. From its headquarters in Washington, D.C., NRF empowers the industry that powers the economy. Retail is the nation’s largest private-sector employer, contributing $2.6 trillion to annual GDP and supporting one in four U.S. jobs — 42 million working Americans. For over a century, NRF has been a voice for every retailer and every retail job, educating, inspiring and communicating the powerful impact retail has on local communities and global economies. NRF.com

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