Did 2009 end on a high note for retailers? It depends on who you ask. The National Retail Federation and U.S. Census Bureau said December sales improved year-over-year, but their estimates differed.
According to the NRF, retail industry sales for December, with the exclusion of automobiles, gas stations and restaurants, rose 2.3% unadjusted year-over-year and fell 0.5% seasonally adjusted from November.
The NRF’s preliminary 2009 holiday sales, which combine the full months of November and December, rose 1.1% to $446.8 billion, and surpassed NRF’s projected decline of 1.0%.
“With an eye on managing inventory and maintaining lower price points, retailers did a tremendous job of planning for the holiday season,” said NRF chief economist Rosalind Wells in a statement. “While the consumer appears to be spending again, double digit unemployment numbers will remain an impediment to maintaining this momentum.”
The NRF said apparel was a big driver for retailers as apparel and accessories stores for December increased 7% year-over-year and dipped 0.6% from November. Sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores also performed well in December with sales increasing 3.9% from last year and up 1.6% month-to-month.
But the weak housing market continues to affect the sale of home furnishings. December sales of furniture and home furnishing stores decreased 3.5% from December 2008, though they were up 0.3% from the previous month.
Meanwhile, the Census Bureau’s advanced estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for December – adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences – rose 5.4% year-over-year to $353.0 billion. Minus gas stations, the December year-over-year increase was 5.9%.
But the bureau also delivered a buzz-kill: Total sales for the 2009 were down 6.2%.
“While the overall trend is in the right direction, today’s retail sales data show that we have more work to do,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said in a statement. “The upturn in this key sector of the economy, combined with further stimulus expenditures and strong growth in exports from recoveries abroad, improve the outlook for additional domestic growth in the new year.”