Retail organization calls economy “stable yet fragile”


Consumers managed to increase spending in January by a seasonally-adjusted 0.3%, according to the latest report from the National Retail Federation. NRF noted that the slight uptick came in the face of twin headwinds including higher payroll deductions and increasing gas prices.

The estimate, measuring the increase from December to January, excludes items such as automobiles, gas stations and restaurants. Unadjusted, spending was up 5.4% year-over year.

NRF is predicting a 3.4% increase in retail sales for 2013 as a whole, including a 9%-12% increase in online spending.

“Today’s retail sales figures continue to indicate a stable yet fragile economy,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “Consumers are continuing to hold back on spending just as our economy is held back by political brinkmanship in D.C. The failure to address the critical challenges confronting our economy will continue to dampen consumer confidence, which will in turn mute sales and growth. The economy will continue to limp along until our politicians finally address our tax and spending challenges and put forward a pro-growth, pro-jobs agenda.”
US Department of Commerce figures, which include the items left out by NRF, showed gains of 0.1% and 4.7% respectively.

 “With the return of healthy housing prices, stronger employment statistics combined with historic highs on Wall Street at the end of 2012 and 2013, consumers seem a bit more confident these days,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “Even though retail sales were relatively modest in January, consumers seem to have adjusted accordingly to rising taxes and energy prices.  Far from secure, consumer confidence continues to be shaky.”

NRF noted the following highlights:

* Clothing and clothing accessories stores’ sales decreased 0.3 percent seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and increased 5.9 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

* Electronics and appliance stores’ sales increased 0.2 percent seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and increased 2.7 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

* Furniture and home furnishing stores’ sales decreased 0.2 percent seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and increased 5.8 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

* General merchandise stores’ sales increased 1.1 seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and decreased 0.3 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

* Health and personal care stores’ sales decreased 1.0 percent seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and increased 0.7 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

* Nonstore retailers’ sales increased 0.9 percent seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and increased 17.5 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

* Sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores’ sales increased 0.6 percent seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and increased 8.3 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

RBR-TVBR observation: The prescription for fixing the economy is up for complex and is a matter for serious debate and negotiation based on facts and evidence rather than ideology and politics.

That doesn’t make it easy. We expect we could have a spirited debate as to the best course of action within the confines of our own relatively small company.

What isn’t up for debate is the damage caused when the inside-the-Beltway crowd negotiates not through reasoned discussion but through headlines, obstinacy and brinksmanship.

We are expected to act like adults – it’s high time they start doing that in Washington.