Retail sales rose 0.7% in September, much stronger than estimate


Consumers showed surprising strength in September, boosting retail sales well above expectations despite high interest rates and worries over a weakening economy.

Retail sales rose 0.7% on the month, well above the 0.3% Dow Jones estimate, according to the advance report the Commerce Department released Tuesday. Excluding autos, sales were up 0.6%, also well ahead of the forecast for just 0.2%.

The numbers are not adjusted for inflation, so they indicate that consumers more than kept up with price increases. The consumer price index, released last week, showed headline inflation up 0.4% in September.

On a year-over-basis, sales rose 3.8%, compared to the 3.7% increase for CPI.

Treasury yields moved higher following the report while stock market futures added to losses.

Sales gains were broad-based on the month, with the biggest increase coming at miscellaneous store retailers, which saw an increase of 3%. Online sales rose 1.1% while motor vehicle parts and dealers saw a 1% increase and food services and drinking places grew by 0.9%, good for a yearly increase of 9.2%, which led all categories.

There were only a few categories that showed a decline; electronics and appliances stores as well as clothing retailers both saw decreases of 0.8% on the month.

The retail report is considered an important factor for the Federal Reserve as officials contemplate the future of monetary policy. While markets largely expect the Fed is done raising rates for this cycle, an unexpectedly strong consumer complicates the equation.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell speaks Thursday in New York, an event that markets will be watching closely for some indication about where he thinks rates are headed. The rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee next meets Oct. 31-Nov. 1. Market pricing assumes a near-certainty that the FOMC will not hike then, but it could choose to do so at future meetings if economic data remains strong.

Consumers face growing headwinds going into the end of the year.

Employment growth is expected to slow though it, too, has defied expectations. Credit card balances are rising, and the resumption of student loan payments also is expected to impact spending.

Still, third-quarter economic growth is likely to be strong, with the Atlanta Fed’s GDP tracker showing a potential annualized gain of 5.1%.