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Today the U.S. Census Bureau released preliminary estimates of nationwide retail sales in January 2024 and revised estimates for December 2023. (The data include both brick-and-mortar and Internet sales.)

Retail Sales Growing. Seasonally adjusted U.S. retail sales dropped 0.5 percent from October to January. Cumulative twelve-month growth in sales from January 2023 to January 2024 was 0.6 percent.

Recent One-Month Changes Too Volatile to Be Informative. As noted previously, recent patterns suggest that the Census Bureau’s seasonal adjustment for retail sales might not be working as intended. Until these concerns are addressed, numbers that are less sensitive to seasonal patterns---such as the three-month and twelve-month growth rates noted above---likely provide more useful information than monthly numbers.

Inflation-Adjusted Sales Declined Over Last 3 Months and Over Last 12 Months. Across all goods and services purchased by consumers, U.S. prices increased by 0.7 percent from October to January, so the decline in real purchases was bigger than the 0.5 decline in nominal sales. From January 2023 to January 2024, prices grew 3.1 percent, far outpacing the 0.6 percent growth in sales over that twelve-month period.


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