This morning the Commerce Department reported retail sales rose a disappointing 0.2 percent in November, despite stronger new car sales. Sales net of motor vehicles and parts were up 0.5 percent. Net of motor vehicles and parts, retail sales were also up 0.2 percent.
Prior to today’s report, economist had been marking up their 4th quarter GDP forecasts on the strength of retail sales and better than expected trade deficit numbers. However, analysts should have seen this coming with the weak inventory build in the third quarter. Net imports waned a bit, because retailers are not expecting an exceptionally strong holiday season and have stocked accordingly.
Households completed the process of pushing down debt in April and are spending again. However, the household savings rate has been falling, and the Black Friday – Cyber Monday binge may have tapped out consumers.
GDP growth in the range of 2.5 percent in likely in the 4th quarter, and falling to 2 percent the first half of the New Year.
Peter Morici is a professor at the Smith School of Business, University of Maryland and former chief economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission. Follow him on Twitter@pmorici1.