WASHINGTON (AFP): Retail sales in the United States boomed in January as shops more than regained ground lost in an unexpected December slump, despite high inflation, according to government data released Wednesday.
Retail sales rose 3.8% last month, the Commerce Department said, double what was expected and a dramatic reversal of the 2.5% decline in December, which was worse than originally reported.
“The strength of this rebound adds credence to the idea that December sales were weak largely because people pulled holiday purchases forward, fearing shortages of popular items,” Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics said, adding that the sales forecast better-than-expected growth in the first quarter.
The White House cheered the data, saying on Twitter that it shows how U.S. President Joe Biden “has taken concrete action to get Americans back to work, battle COVID-19, and address supply chain issues, helping our economy continue to build on what has already been a historic period of growth.”
But with consumer prices up by a massive 7.5% in the 12 months to January, Managing Director of GlobalData Neil Saunders said the price increases played a role in the sales surge.
“While volumes are positive, they are less impressive than the headline number initially suggests,” he wrote in an analysis.
The auto industry, which continues to face lean inventories due to the global semiconductor shortage that has cut into production, bounced back last month with a 5.7% jump in sales of motor vehicles and parts, according to the Commerce Department.
Non-store retailers encompassing e-commerce firms saw sales soar 14.5%, while furniture and home stores reported a 7.2% increase, and sales at department stores rose 9.2%, the report said.
Building materials and garden equipment dealers saw a 4.1% increase in sales, and electronics and appliance business increased 1.9%.
Gas stations were among the few sectors that reported a decline in sales in January, with a 1.3% fall. Sporting goods stores saw a 3% decrease, while bars and restaurants and health and personal care stores suffered dips of under 1%.