Retail sales fell 0.1% in November, the first decline in six months, the government said today in a report containing more evidence of a not-so-jolly Christmas shopping season.
Even before the Commerce Department’s report, major retailers had said their sales were off from a year earlier. Analysts attribute the slow sales to fewer jobs and less income and anxiety over the Persian Gulf crisis.
The department said sales totaled a seasonally adjusted $151.6 billion, down from $151.8 billion in October and the first decline since a similar 0.1% drop in May. However, the revised 0.2% gain in October was a bit stronger than the 0.1% advance originally reported.
Automobile sales plummeted 1.3%, reversing a steep 1.4% increase in October. But some analysts said much of the October activity came from fleet sales.
Excluding the automobile category, sales inched up 0.2%.
The Thanksgiving weekend traditionally is the beginning of the holiday shopping season that often sets the tone for the remainder of the period. Because of slack sales, many retailers have resorted to markdowns and other incentives to lure shoppers.
Nevertheless, department store sales fell 0.4% in November after a 0.6% decline a month earlier. Department store sales often are an important barometer of consumer activity.