Retail

Signs Of Life Appearing In Retail

As regular readers of our weekly bankruptcy tracker can attest, it has been a rough year for much of retail. There have been outliers — Walmart has managed a pretty good year among the carnage and Amazon is locked in on a solid growth path — but the general trend of the stories has not been overly hopeful.

But there are some early indications that this trend may be turning around just in time for Christmas.

The monthly retail sales figures are out today — care of the Commerce Department — and the analyst outlook ahead of time is reasonably positive.

Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal estimate retail sales in September rose 0.6 percent from a month earlier. That compares with the 0.3 percent decline in August and a flat July result. It would also exceed the 0.2 percent average growth over the past 12 months by a fair margin.

The results also get a bit perkier when cars, gasoline and building materials (the more volatile monthly figures) are stripped out as they are likely to decline by about .3 percent in September.

The outlying surprise in the results is in the decline of nonstore retailers — the category that catches e-commerce players like Amazon. That drop represents its biggest monthly fall off since January of 2015.

Experts believe that drop is more a blip than the beginning of a trend.

Outside evidence also indicates that the purse strings may have loosened up some nationwide — U.S. consumers were more active last month than in any September since 2008, according to Gallup. Gallup’s figures also indicated that the normal September slump did not occur this year, as it has for the last several.

Sales pick-ups are generally heralded as a positive economic development — as they tend to push companies to increase hiring and beef up capital spending.  Retail sales at an early phase of the year were roughly doubling GDP — but fell back sharply over the summer. The current conventional wisdom on trends seems to indicate that retail will be carrying more water to end off 2016 as well.

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