January retail sales rise just 0.1 percent
WASHINGTON — Americans barely spent more last month at retail businesses and restaurants after higher taxes cut their paychecks. The small increase suggests consumer spending may be weak in the January-March quarter, which could hold back economic growth.
Retail sales ticked up 0.1 percent in January from December, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. That follows a 0.5 percent increase in December and is the smallest in three months.
Sales fell at auto dealerships, clothing stores and furniture stores. The declines came after big gains in each of those categories in December. Sales rose last month at home improvement stores, gas stations and online retailers.
So-called core retail sales, which exclude autos, building materials, and gas stations, ticked up 0.2 percent. That's down from 0.6 percent in December. Economists pay close attention to core sales because they strip out the most volatile categories.
The retail sales report is the government's first look at consumer spending, which drives 70 percent of economic activity.
Nearly all working Americans are taking home less pay this year. Congress and the White House allowed a temporary 2 percentage point cut in Social Security taxes to expire last month. That means a person earning $50,000 a year will have about $1,000 less to spend in 2013.
A household with two high-paid workers will have up to $4,500 less.
Economists were mildly encouraged that spending rose at all after the tax increases took effect. Many expect that spending may pick up later this year as hiring improves.
Top-earning households are also paying higher income taxes this year. President Obama and lawmakers agreed to prevent income taxes from rising on most Americans. But their deal to avoid the fiscal cliff allowed income taxes to rise on individuals earning $400,000 a year and couples earning $450,000 a year.
Michael Feroli, an economist at JPMorgan Chase, said the higher taxes could weigh on spending for up to six months.
“Even so, it is nice to see that consumers didn't stumble out of the blocks,” he said in a note to clients.
The Social Security tax increase was a key reason the Conference Board's index of consumer confidence plummeted last month to its lowest level in 14 months. That survey was taken early in the month, when most Americans were discovering their smaller paychecks.
But a separate survey taken later in the month by the University of Michigan suggested consumers weren't quite as dismayed, possibly after absorbing the impact of the tax increase.
Better hiring and rising prices for stocks and homes may boost consumer confidence and spending in the coming months.
Employers added an average of 200,000 jobs a month in the final three months of last year, the Labor Department said earlier this month. That was up from just 150,000 in the preceding three months.
And some retail store chains reported healthy sales gains last month, suggesting that at least some consumers kept shopping even after the tax cut kicked in. Some of the gains likely reflected healthy holiday discounts.
Overall, consumer spending grew at a faster pace in the final three months of last year than in the preceding quarter. Still, steep cuts in defense spending and slower company restocking weakened the economy.
The government said last month that the economy contracted in the October-December quarter at an annual rate of 0.1 percent.
But economists expect that figure will be revised in the coming months to show a small increase, after more data about last quarter has been reported. Economists at Barclays Capital estimate the economy expanded 0.5 percent in the fourth quarter.
Growth will likely pick up a bit in the January-March quarter to an annual rate of 1.5 percent, analysts forecast. That's better than the fourth quarter but below last year's expansion of 2.2 percent.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Investors content with pace on stocks even in face of good news
- Lenders could move against Anchor Hocking as extension expires
- Hiring in shale industry shifts to engineering, construction workers
- State to seek comments on drilling below Loyalsock State Forest
- Consol Energy posts $25 million loss despite gas gains
- Hotels, restaurants lead job additions in Pittsburgh region
- Pittsburgh Brewing tries to reconnect with region, return to glory days
- EPA hearings to bring coal debate to Pittsburgh streets
- Tech giants lead rush for profits in foreign countries
- GNC revenue, sales drop, but vitamin retailer says plan in place
- U.S. Steel’s 2Q loss beats analysts’ estimates