US Retail Spending Rises Briskly In Q4 Kickoff

A solid gain in retail sales for October dealt another blow to folks who’ve been warning that a US recession is imminent. Consumer spending increased at a brisk pace last month, advancing 0.8%, which lifted sales 4.3% vs. the year-earlier level—the strongest gain in nearly two years.

A firmer annual trend for retail sales by itself is no guarantee that the expansion will endure. But considering the latest numbers in context with a broad set of indicators from other corners of the economy paints a relatively upbeat profile for the US macro trend through last month.


With most of the October numbers published, it’s clear that economic growth prevailed at a moderate pace. In fact, it would have been surprising to learn otherwise. Last month’s macro trend profile continued to project that business cycle risk was low, and would remain so for the immediate future, and the latest update on retail spending only strengthens the analysis.

“The consumer is in good shape,” Michael Gapen, chief U.S. economist at Barclays, tells Bloomberg. “The pace of household spending is fairly solid. We expect a slight acceleration this quarter from the third-quarter rate.”

The positive tone is echoed in the latest economic nowcast via the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow model. The US economy is on track to expand at a 3.3% in the fourth quarter (seasonally adjusted annual rate), based on the Nov. 15 projection—modestly above the 2.9% pace in Q3.



Absolute certainty, as always, is elusive, but the numbers published to date strongly suggest that recession risk was low through last month. Meanwhile, near-term projections through the end of the year suggest that the trend will continue to skew positive, based on econometric estimates in the current edition of the The US Business Cycle Risk Report.

Is the relatively upbeat outlook subject to change? Yes, of course–now and forever, which is why real-time monitoring of the business cycle never goes out of style. Sunny days can and sometimes do give way to storms.

On the short list of potential troubles, at least in some circles, is the potential fallout from a Trump presidency, although at least one influential economist has retracted his dire forecast based on last week’s surprising election outcome.

“If electoral uncertainty were restraining activity prior to last Tuesday, it is nowhere apparent in the consumer spending data,” notes JPMorgan Chase economist Michael Feroli.

What could derail the positive trend? The sky’s the limit for a list of potential catalysts. But based on what we know right now, it’s hard to argue that recession risk is high and/or rising.

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