The December Retail Sales numbers are in and they are not terrible, but neither are they terribly encouraging. Total Retail Sales, without automobiles, came in 15.3% higher than November. The month-to-month seasonal gain was milder than normal and milder than 8 of the last 10 years (the 10-year average is 17.4%).
Christmas and overall spending came in above year-ago levels, but this is not impressive. What you were making/distributing/selling mattered. Clothes did better than electronics and lower price point goods reportedly sold better than big-ticket items.
Automobile Retail Sales were disappointing. Auto sales increased a mild 9.2% from November to December. The 10-year average is 23.5%. Some of the mildness is because of a healthy November, but the consumer seemed to be pulling back on big ticket items. It will be interesting to see the housing numbers (existing and new home sales) when they come out.
The sales figures are very consistent with our message of slower growth in 2014 in comparison to 2013. This will be a good year, but not a great year. We will watch consumer trends closely in the coming months because a continuation of the current trend means a soft spot in the economy in the second half of the year.