Retail sales take hit from Sandy, federal uncertainty

Retail sales ticked down slightly in October as consumers halted discretionary spending in the face of inclement weather and uncertainty in Washington.

October retail sales – excluding automobiles, gas stations and restaurants – decreased .3 percent seasonally adjusted from September, but increased 3.9 percent from October 2011.

“While Hurricane Sandy certainly impacted consumer spending in the northeast and mid-Atlantic states, the larger threat to the overall economy is the impending fiscal cliff,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “The automatic tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect at the end of the year might have more of an impact on business confidence and consumer spending than any other issue. It’s imperative that policymakers address the looming fiscal cliff now to give consumers some certainty heading into the holiday shopping season.”

October retail sales, released by the Department of Commerce, showed total retail and food service sales decreased .3 percent seasonally adjusted.

“The underlying strength of the American consumer is encouraging, but it’s far from definitive,” said NRF Chief Economist Jack Klienhenz. “Hurricane Sandy will have short-term and long-term reverberations on the economy and will continue to impact consumer spending and retail sales over the coming months in the hardest-hit areas. Even though retail sales declined in October, NRF remains confident in moderate consumer spending nationwide, and expects a solid holiday shopping season.”

Other findings:

– Clothing and clothing accessories stores’ sales decreased .1 percent seasonally adjusted, yet increased 4.2 percent from the previous year.

– Electronics and appliance stores’ sales decreased 1 percent seasonally adjusted in October, and also decreased 4.2 percent from the same period last year.

-Furniture and home furnishing store sales decreased .6 percent seasonally adjusted for the month, but increased 7.3 percent for the same period in 2011.

– Health and personal care stores’ sales increased .3 percent in October, and increased 2.1 percent for the same period a year ago.