Soft car, apparel sales bring September down

Don Hogsett, October 21, 2002

Weighed down heavily by sagging car sales, and a broad reluctance of nervous consumers to part with their money, retail sales tumbled by 1.2 percent in September, to a seasonally adjusted level of $274.4 billion.

Inflicting the heaviest damage to overall retail sales last month were car sales, which plunged by 4.8 percent, to a seasonal level of $73.4 billion, down from $77.1 billion in August, the Commerce Department reported. It was a big about-face for Detroit after three straight monthly gains, with auto sales throughout the summer sparked by price and interest-rate promotions.

Another big decliner for the month was the persistently weak apparel channel, with clothing and accessories stores reporting that sales fell by 0.9 percent. Sales at non-store retailers fell by 1.0 percent.

Elsewhere, sales declined broadly from August levels, but for the most part modestly, the government reported. After rising by 0.8 percent last month, and rebounding to the strong sales levels of most of this year, sales in furniture and home furnishings gave up some of the August increase, slipping by 0.5 percent, to a seasonally adjusted level of $7.9 billion. Even so, sales of home goods remained strong, climbing by 5.4 percent from year-ago levels.

Another home-related channel, electronics and appliance stores, reported sales were off modestly, by 0.3 percent. The one home channel that gained during September was building materials and garden supplies, where sales jumped up by 1.8 percent, making it the best-performing category of retail last month.

Retail Sales in September (by channel)

Source: U.S. Department of Commerce
Building materials & garden supplies +1.8%
Health & personal care +1.5
Sporting goods, hobby, books & music +1.5
Gas stations 0.0
Car dealers -4.8%
Non-store retailers -1.0
Clothing & accessories -0.9
Department stores -0.6
Furniture & home furnishings stores -0.5
Restaurants & bars -0.4

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