By Jeffry Bartash, MarketWatch
The numbers: Sales at U.S. retailers rose slightly in November and mostly benefited a few merchants such as auto dealers and internet stores, suggesting the holiday season got off to a sluggish start.
Retail sales edged up 0.2% last month, the government said Friday. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected a 0.5% increase.
One potential reason sales fell short of Wall Street’s forecast: A late Thanksgiving pushed the first big weekend of holiday spending into December. Cyber Monday took place on Dec. 2.
What happened: Internet-based retailers such as Amazon /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN +2.55% fared the best. Sales at so-called nonstore retailers rose 0.8% last month.
Stores such as Best Buy /zigman2/quotes/205918291/composite BBY +2.33% that sell electronics and appliances also posted a similarly strong increase. And receipts advanced 0.7% at gas stations — reflecting higher prices — and 0.5% at auto dealers.
The rest of the retail industry lagged behind. If autos and gas are stripped out, sales were basically flat.
Sales fell at department stores, restaurants, clothing stores, pharmacies and outlets that sell sporting goods. The declines at restaurants and health-care stores were the biggest in almost a year.
Retail sales in October, meanwhile, were revised up a tick to show a 0.4% increase.
Big picture: The 2019 holiday season is likely to be stronger than it was last year, when retail sales fell slightly in November and even more sharply in December. The labor market is robust, unemployment is low, stocks are at record highs and consumer confidence has rebounded after a late-summer lull.
Yet as the November results suggested, the increase in sales probably won’t be enough to give the U.S. economy a huge boost in the fourth quarter.
What they are saying?: “The retail sales report is flaky, subject to substantial revisions and less reliable than other economic data,” said chief economist Chris Low of FHN Financial. “Anecdotal reports pegged Black Friday weekend sales as strong, and online sales particularly strong.”
“While softer-than-expected retail sales in November may be blamed on the timing of the Thanksgiving holiday, in fact, the growth in retail sales has downshifted noticeably in recent months,” economists at NatWest Markets said.
Market reaction: The Dow Jones Industrial Average /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA +1.51% and the S&P 500 /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX +1.61% rose in Friday trades after the U.S. and China said they’ve agreed on the first phase of a trade agreement that Wall Street hopes reduces tensions and gives the global economy a boost.
The 10-year Treasury yield /zigman2/quotes/211347051/realtime BX:TMUBMUSD10Y +0.50% ws unchanged at 1.88%.