Retail sales down slightly in October, but increase on year-over-year basis

WASHINGTON — Retail sales were down slightly in October on a month-to-month basis while increasing on an annual basis, reflecting Hurricane Sandy and uncertainty in Washington, according to the National Retail Federation.

The retailing trade group said Wednesday that October retail sales — with exception to automobiles, gas stations and restaurants — decreased 0.3% seasonally adjusted from September while increasing nearly 4% unadjusted year over year.

"While Hurricane Sandy certainly impacted consumer spending in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, the larger threat to the overall economy is the impending fiscal cliff, which impacts Americans across the country," NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay said. "The automatic tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect at the end of the year may have more of an impact on business confidence and consumer spending than any other issue."

Sales at health and personal care stores increased 0.3% seasonally adjusted month to month, yet increased 2.1% unadjusted year over year, while general merchandise stores' seasonally adjusted monthly sales increased 0.2% and unadjusted annual sales decreased 1.1%. At the same time, clothing and clothing accessories stores reported a 0.1% decreased in seasonally adjusted month-to-month sales and a 4.2% increase in unadjusted year-over-year sales.

"The underlying strength of the American consumer is encouraging, but it's far from definitive," NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said. "Hurricane Sandy will have short-term and long-term reverberations on the economy and will continue to impact consumer spending and retail sales over the coming months in the hardest-hit areas. Even though retail sales declined in October, NRF remains confident in moderate consumer spending nationwide and expects a solid holiday shopping season."