Earlier Fears Confirmed: Retail Sales Up Only 3.8%

From Associated Press

Retail sales grew an anemic 3.8% last year, the government said today. It was the slowest annual pace since the nation was struggling out of the last recession in 1982.

The Commerce Department said sales for 1990 totaled $1.8 trillion, up from $1.71 trillion a year earlier. It was the smallest advance since a 3% increase in 1982.

Sales in December fell 0.4% to a seasonally adjusted $151.1 billion, down from $151.6 billion in November, which had been the first decline since a similar 0.1% drop last May.

The December sales report confirmed the disappointing holiday shopping season reported earlier by the nation’s major retailers. The Christmas shopping season, which traditionally begins the day after Thanksgiving, provides as much as half of retailers’ profits.


Commerce said department store sales were off 0.9% after gaining a revised 0.5% in November. November sales originally were reported to have fallen 0.4%.

Retail sales represent about half of total consumer spending, which itself accounts for two-thirds of the nation’s economic activity. Analysts have attributed the sluggish sales to the declining economy and fear of war in the Middle East.

Automobile sales fell 1.4%, more than erasing a 0.6% gain in November.

Sales of durable goods--items like cars, which are expected to last more than three years--continued a three-month slide, dropping 0.8% after declines of 1.1% in November and 0.8% in October.


Sales of building materials, which were unchanged in November, plunged 2.7%. Purchases of furniture and other home furnishings rose 0.9%, however.

Overall, non-durable sales slipped 0.1% after a 0.5% gain in November.