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US retail sales fall 1.9% in December amid high inflation, COVID-19

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People buying products in an American supermarket. /Xinhua

People buying products in an American supermarket. /Xinhua

U.S. retail sales in December fell 1.9% from the previous month, marking the largest monthly decline since February, the Commerce Department reported Friday.

Retail sales totaled $626.8 billion in December, up 16.9% from December 2020, according to the report.

Noting that the losses were widespread, Diane Swonk, chief economist at major accounting firm Grant Thornton, noted in an analysis that the drop was “even bigger” after adjusting for the 0.5% rise in inflation in the course of the month.

Swonk also noted that the decline occurred as hospitalizations increased last winter. “This bodes ill for January and underscores the risk of a sharp halt or contraction in growth in the first quarter,” she said.

Tim Quinlan and Shannon Seery, economists at Wells Fargo Securities, said in an analysis, meanwhile, see the crater in retail sales “more as a reflection of early buying and pulled-forward demand than ‘an Omicron impact or seminal change in consumer activity,’

“Inflation will be a bigger headwind for consumers than COVID in 2022,” Quinlan and Seery added.

November retail sales were revised down from a 0.3% increase to 0.2%, the Commerce Department report noted. Total sales for the period October 2021 to December 2021 increased by 17.1% compared to the same period a year ago.

The retail sales data was released two days after the US Department of Labor announced consumer prices in December continued to rise at the fastest annual rate in nearly 40 years.

The consumer price index (CPI) rose last month by 0.5% from the previous month and 7.0% from a year earlier, the biggest 12-month increase since June 1982 , according to the department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Source(s): Xinhua News Agency

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