Black Friday Doesn’t Save November Retail Sales

U.S. retail sales rose at their slowest pace in five months in November.

The 0.2 percent gain in sales last month followed a 0.6 percent advance in October that was more than initially reported, Commerce Department figures showed on Tuesday. Purchases excluding automobiles also rose 0.2 percent.

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Retailers like J.C. Penney (NYSE:JCP) and Gap Inc. (NYSE:GPS) are relying on discounts to drum up sales, as the labor market and incomes struggle to improve. Consumers have had to draw down savings to their lowest levels in four years in order to maintain spending.

“Looking at job creation, income growth, neither of those really suggest a strong spending scenario,” said Lindsey Piegza, an economist at FTN Financial in New York.

Retail sales were expected to pick up after rising a previously reported 0.5 percent in October, but the November gain was the smallest since a similar rise in June.

Sales excluding automobiles and service stations increased 0.2 percent. Sales at automobile dealers rose 0.5 percent in November after a 0.8 percent increase in October. Car and light truck sales in the U.S. advanced at a 13.6 million seasonally adjusted annualized rate, the best since August 2009, according to researcher Autodata Corp.

Sales excluding autos, gasoline, and building materials, which renders the figures used to calculate gross domestic product, climbed 0.2 percent in November after a 0.6 percent increase in the previous month.

Seven of the 13 major categories measured by the Commerce Department showed gains last month, led by a 2.1 percent jump at electronics and appliance stores.

Filling-station sales declined 0.1 percent, as gasoline receipts at service stations dropped. Regular fuel at the pump averaged $3.38 a gallon in November, down from $3.43 a month earlier.

Demand at building-material stores decreased 0.3 percent. Purchases at clothing stores increased 0.5 percent while purchases at general merchandise stores rose 0.3 percent.

Spending jumped 9.1 percent per customer during Thanksgiving weekend to $398.62, according to the National Retail Federation. Sales totaled a record $52.4 billion. Same-store sales at more than 20 companies tracked by researcher Retail Metrics Inc. rose a combined 3.2 percent.

An improving labor market could help sustain growth in consumer spending, which accounts for roughly 70 percent of the U.S. economy. Payrolls jumped by 120,000 workers in November, pushing down the jobless rate to 8.6 percent, the lowest since March 2009.

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