Retail sales gained momentum in January as consumers defied global economical turmoil and boosted their spending for the third consecutive month.
Consumers spent $449.9 billion in January, which was an increase of a seasonally adjusted 0.2 percent from last month and 3.4 percent higher than January 2015, the Commerce Department reported on Friday. December’s sales were revised up to a 0.2 percent increase from the initially reported 0.1 percent decline.
With the revised numbers from December, retail sales are now running on a three-month streak with higher sales in general and in eight of 13 major categories included in the report. Excluding autos and the cheap gasoline, the core measure of retail sales increased 0.4 percent showing that households are remaining carefully optimistic.
Consumer spending drives almost 70 percent of the economic output. With the disappointing retail development over the holiday season now revised into a positive trend, key economical indicators are defying the meltdown in stock markets, a strong dollar challenging companies depending on export and the plunging oil prizes.
“The volatility in equity has cast some doubt on the economy and raised the perceived risk of recession,” said Thomas Simons, economist at Jefferies Group. “Today’s report is completely ignoring that and we are seeing one of the general drivers of the economy doing good.”
Leading the increase is online shopping with a 1.6 percent hike from December, which is the most in 11 months. Automobile dealers followed last month’s 0.5 increase and rose 0.6 percent this month.
Gasoline is extremely cheap at the moment and consumers spent 3.1 percent less on gasoline this month, marking the biggest drop since September.
While January retail sales were stronger than expected, there are signs that consumers are still concerned about the economy. While they appeared to be undeterred by the market turbulence in January, The University of Michigan’s preliminary February Consumer Sentiment index dropped from 92.0 in January to 90.7 in February indicating that pessimism might be building among shoppers.
Since The Federal Reserve increased the interest rate in December, markets have been dropping steadily. Dow Jones has lost 8.33 percent since New Years and Nasdaq is down by 13.38 percent in the same period.
The FED is still planning on further rate hikes in 2016 but the current turmoil in the financial markets, the strong dollar and slow economic growth in Europe and China makes the decision-making more difficult for FED-chair Janet Yellen.
However, a strong job market, rising wages and optimistic consumers are a strong showcase for those looking for further tightening of monetary policies.
“If retail continues to look good and overall consumer spending and data in general continues this solid pace, we believe FED will be raising the rate in June,” said Gus Faucher, Senior Economist at PNC Group. “The outlook is pretty good. In this report there are no losers.”