US September retail sales in unexpected dip, analysts concerned over consumer confidence ahead of Holiday

US retail sales fell an unexpected 0.3% month-on-month in September, far more than analysts had expected, and a worrying sign that a still-cautious consumer is heading into the all-important Holiday shopping season. It was the first decline in sales since January and the dip surprised analysts who had expected sales to edge down just 0.1% following a 0.6% on-month rise in August.

Core sales, which strip out automobiles, fuel, building materials and food service, fell 0.2% compared to a 0.3% increase in the previous month. Analysts had expected the reading to increase.

While Commerce Department figures showed retail sales rose 4.3% year-on-year last month, double the pace of inflation, analysts are concerned over weakening consumer confidence and minimal wage growth that has made any recovery choppy at best.

The Conference Board’s consumer-confidence reading fell sharply in September from a post-recession peak the prior month. And there are fresh signs of an economic slowdown in both Europe and China.

Wider issues are reflected in turbulent global financial markets, with the spread of the Ebola virus and a widening conflict in the Middle East weighing increasingly on consumers, businesses and investors (see story below).

A slowdown from strong summer auto sales, falling fuel prices and the timing of Apple’s iPhone 6 release all played a role the latest September data.

Seasonally adjusted retail sales fell in most categories last month, apart from a 3.4% hike at electronics and appliance stores. Sales at non-store retailers, mostly online, also fell 1.1% on the month.

Sales at apparel retailers fell 1.2% and inched down 0.1% at sporting goods stores. Receipts at building materials and garden equipment suppliers also declined 1.1%.

Motor vehicle and parts sales fell 0.8% in September, the first category dip since January while sales at petrol stations were down 0.8% on-month.

Across the US economy, growth rebounded by 4.6% in the spring after a Q1 contraction brought about by an unusually cold winter. The latest spending data had some analysts downgrading Q3 estimates. However, expectations remain for growth well above the 2% pace recorded for most of the five-year-old recovery, noted The Wall Street Journal.

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