U.S. retail sales grow for 5th straight month; industrial production falls

Retail sales rose strongly in September, the fifth consecutive month of growth, as Americans spent more on clothing, cars and sporting goods.

Meanwhile, U.S. industrial production fell in September, its first decline since April.

The U.S. Commerce Department said Friday that retail sales jumped 1.9% last month. That’s much better than the 0.8% rise economists expected. And it’s up from an increase of 0.6% in August.

Retail sales have been recovering since plunging in the spring as stores and malls were ordered closed to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Much of last month’s growth came from clothing stores, where sales rose 11%. At auto dealerships and auto part shops, sales were up 3.6%. And those looking to go camping or buy exercise equipment for their homes sent sales at sporting goods stores up 5.7%.

Consumer spending makes up two-thirds of all U.S. economic activity, and is watched closely to gauge the country’s economic health.

Friday’s retail sales report covers only about a third of overall consumer spending. Services such as haircuts and hotel stays are not included in the report. All of those types of businesses have been badly hurt by the pandemic.

Industrial production

U.S. industrial production fell 0.6% in September, the weakest showing since industrial output tumbled in the spring when the economy was slowed by widespread lockdowns resulting from the coronavirus.

The Federal Reserve reported Friday that industrial production suffered its first decline since a 12.7% drop in April during the spring lockdowns.

The key category that reflects manufacturing output fell 0.3%. At the same time, mining output, which includes oil and gas exploration, fell 5.6%. Production at the nation’s utilities was up 1.7%.

Last month’s reading on industrial production was far below the gains that began in May after sharp declines in March and April.

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