US retail sales saw a modest increase in August, led by a robust e-commerce industry and increased demand for vehicles. Released by the Commerce Department on Friday, the retail sales report also indicates risk-averse sentiment among consumers.
- Retail sales rose 0.4% in August, down from the 0.8% increase seen in July.
- Excluding the volatile component of autos, sales were unchanged for the first time since February.
- The slowdown points to a lull in consumer confidence, likely a result of the US/China trade war which remains ongoing after a year.
Friday’s retail sales report contains mixed data – sales continue to grow, but at a lower rate due to cautious sentiment felt by consumers. The trade war, which has continued to escalate over the past year and impact business investment and manufacturing, has also created an uncertain environment for consumers. Consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of the US GDP, and along with the healthy labor market, has been a support and a driving force for the economy in the face of recent headwinds.
However, online sales are strong, rising 1.6% in August which is a similar increase to the month before. Auto sales saw the biggest increase in five months at 1.8% growth, and some analysts have pointed out that demand for major purchases like vehicles indicates that underlying confidence does persevere among many consumers.
Sales at gas stations dropped -1% with the close of summer driving season, and sales in restaurants and brick-and-mortar retailers also fell -1%, perhaps due to the increasing popularity of ecommerce alternatives. The economy continues to grow at a pace of approximately 2%, and this looks set to continue under current conditions.
Remarkable stat: department store retail sales have posted growth on just 2 months in the past 8 years pic.twitter.com/xJAVD7OVhz
— zerohedge (@zerohedge) September 13, 2019
However, the uncertainty surrounding the trade war looms, threatening to destabilize the current 11-year period of economic expansion, the longest in US history. US President Donald Trump recently agreed to a tariff freeze at the request of the Chinese government, indicating that both sides of the conflict are still willing to negotiate. Meanwhile, the US central bank looks set to implement a second rate cut this year at the Federal Reserve meeting next week.
Managing director at Forexlive.com Adam Button stated that the data was consumer-positive overall, saying “Overall, the consumer remains very strong and that is going to give the Fed some pause. A cut next week is a done deal but there's a very good case for Powell to push back against an October cut.”
Gold prices lost some momentum following the release of the retail sales report, although are still up on the day. Spot gold last traded at $1,504.96/oz, up 0.42% with a high of $1,508.73/oz and a low of $1,496.11/oz. Straddling a crucial line of support/resistance at $1,500 in today’s session, gold prices could go either way as the market digests the news of reduced growth in retail sales as well as global central banks indicating relaxed monetary policy worldwide, and ongoing strength in the US labor market.