NRF: Economic Uncertainty Taints Holiday ’12 Retail Sales

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New York–While they may not have hit the heights that the National Retail Federation (NRF) originally wanted, 2012 holiday sales wound up solid despite economic uncertainty and the concerns around the so-called fiscal cliff.

The NRF, the world’s largest retail association, reported Tuesday that total holiday spending (November/December) increased 3.0% below the NRF’s projection for a 4.1% increase. Total sales reached $579.8 billion. Additionally, according to, non-store holiday sales, which had been projected to increase 12%, grew 11.1% during the holiday period.

Breaking out December alone, the NRF said retail sales (excluding automobiles, gas stations and restaurants) increased 0.8% seasonally adjusted from November and increased 2.1% unadjusted year-over-year. That’s slightly better than results from the U.S. Commerce Department which showed total retail and food services sales (which include non-general merchandise categories such as automobiles, gasoline stations, and restaurants) increased 0.5% seasonally adjusted month-to-month and increased 4.7% adjusted year-over-year.

But Clothing, Accessories Post Strong Gains

NRF used its annual release of holiday sales to reiterate its urgings that the U.S. Congress take action on the economy to squelch uncertainty.

“For over six months, we’ve been saying that the fiscal cliff and economic uncertainty could impact holiday sales,” said Matthew Shay, NRF’s chief executive. “As the number shows, these issues had a visible impact on consumer spending this holiday. We can’t expect consumers to continue to carry the burden of growing our economy—Washington must put political differences aside and do what it takes to get our country growing again and Americans back to work.”

Despite increases in certain categories, such as non-store retail, total December sales still didn’t make up shortfalls in some categories, such as electronics. According to NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said, “Heading into 2013, consumers could continue to think twice about their discretionary purchases as they face decreases in their paychecks and other concerns with their household budgets.”

Other findings from the NRF December retail sales report include:

•Clothing and clothing accessories stores’ sales increased 1.0% seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and increased 2.5% unadjusted year-over-year.

•Electronics and appliance stores’ sales decreased 0.6% seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and decreased 0.4% unadjusted year-over-year.

•Furniture and home furnishing stores’ sales increased 1.4% seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and increased 3.0% unadjusted year-over-year.

•General merchandise stores’ sales were unchanged seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and decreased 3.4% unadjusted year-over-year.

•Health and personal care stores’ sales increased 1.4% seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and decreased 0.7% unadjusted year-over-year.

•Nonstore retailers’ sales increased 0.5% seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and increased 9.6% unadjusted year-over-year.

•Sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores’ sales increased 0.6% seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and increased 4.7% unadjusted year-over-year.

About NRF

As the world’s largest retail trade association and the voice of retail worldwide, NRF represents retailers of all types and sizes, including chain restaurants and industry partners, from the United States and more than 45 countries abroad. Retailers operate more than 3.6 million U.S. establishments that support one in four U.S. jobs–42 million working Americans and contribute $2.5 trillion to annual GDP. NRF’s Retail Means Jobs campaign emphasizes the economic importance of retail and encourages policymakers to support a jobs, innovation and consumer value agenda aimed at boosting economic growth and job creation.