Retail group: Holiday sales up slower-than-expected 5.3%

NEW YORK (AP) — Sales for the holiday 2022 season slowed more than expected from its blistering pace a year ago as higher borrowing costs and higher inflation made shoppers pull back, according to the nation’s largest retail trade group.

The National Retail Federation said Wednesday that holiday sales for the combined November and December period rose 5.3% to $936.3 billion. That was a slower pace than the 13.5% increase a year earlier when shoppers began spending the money they had saved during the early part of the pandemic.

The growth was also below the trade group’s forecast for sales to be up anywhere from 6% to 8%.

Holiday retail sales have averaged an increase of 4.9% over the past 10 years, with pandemic spending in recent years accounting for considerable gains. The holiday sales figure for the 2022 season was the slowest pace since 2019 when sales rose 3.6%.

The numbers exclude automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants and are calculated based on government figures.

The forecast came as a snapshot on total retail sales for December fell 1.1%, following a dip in November, according to the Commerce Department. It marked the biggest monthly retail sales decline for the year.

NRF’s chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said Wednesday that early holiday shopping in October pulled holiday buying forward and a winter storm in the season’s finale hurt sales. Higher prices also made shoppers more cautious.

“The pace of spending was choppy, and consumers may have pulled back more than we had hoped, but these numbers show that they navigated a challenging, inflation-driven environment,” said Kleinhenz in a statement.

The forecast considers a variety of indicators including employment, wages, consumer confidence, disposable income, consumer credit, previous retail sales and weather.

Consumer spending accounts for nearly 70% of U.S. economic activity, and Americans have remained resilient ever since inflation first spiked almost 19 months ago though it has ebbed. Cracks have begun to show, however, as higher prices for basic necessities take up an increasingly large share of everyone’s take-home pay.

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