Nov 16, 2021 - Economy & Business

Retail sales jump amid rising prices

Data: U.S. Census Bureau via FRED; Note: Seasonally adjusted; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: U.S. Census Bureau via FRED; Note: Seasonally adjusted; Chart: Axios Visuals

Retail sales soared 1.7% in October, the best month since March.

Why it matters: The numbers aren’t adjusted for inflation, so some of that jump is because most everything costs more. Still, prices rising at the fastest pace in 30 years hasn't deterred some shoppers.

The big picture: The American consumer looks strong — but economists are watching for pain beneath the surface. What the government data masks is the pressure on Americans whose wage gains aren't keeping up with inflation.

  • Savings will "wind up being a pressure valve for lower-income households" to deal with heftier gas, grocery or heating bills, Ellen Gaske, an economist at Prudential subsidiary PGIM, tells Axios.
  • "The most affected households may have to pull back spending enough that it dents the aggregate. That's the risk I'm watching for," says Gaske.

Worth noting: There's no sign of a spending slowdown at some of the nation's biggest retailers — partly because of inflation, partly because of more demand.

  • At Walmart, there were 6% more transactions than this time last year. How much people spent at the register on average jumped 3%.
  • At Home Depot, the amount spent per visit soared to $82 on average — 13% more than last year.
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