October 13, 2017 9:45 AM, EDT

US Retail Sales Rise Most Since 2015 on Storm-Related Lift


U.S. retail sales jumped last month by the most in more than two years as motor vehicles lost to hurricanes were quickly replaced and higher prices lifted receipts at gasoline stations, Commerce Department figures showed Oct. 13.

Highlights of September Retail Sales

• Overall sales surged 1.6% (estimated 1.7% gain), the most since March 2015, after a revised 0.1% decline in prior month

• Purchases at car dealers rose 3.6%, also the largest advance since March 2015, after 2.1% decrease

• So-called retail-control group sales, which are used to calculate GDP and exclude food services, auto dealers, building materials stores and gasoline stations, rose 0.4% after no change

• 8 of 13 major retail categories showed a gain

Key Takeaways

Vehicle sales helped to drive the overall gain at retailers in September. Demand recovered after auto dealerships around Houston, among the top markets for new-vehicle sales, took a hit from Hurricane Harvey a month earlier. Industry figures released last week showed cars and light trucks sold in September at the fastest annualized rate since 2005.

The September report also showed the biggest monthly advance in sales at service stations since February 2013, reflecting a spike in gasoline prices as Houston-area refiners were forced to suspend operations in the wake of Harvey. The Commerce Department figures aren’t adjusted for price changes.

Excluding motor vehicles and gasoline, September sales increased a more moderate 0.5%. While analysts expect tropical storm-related distortions will continue for several months, underlying demand is expected to keep growing. Steady hiring and limited inflation are helping to sustain household spending, the biggest part of the economy.

Other Details

• Sales at building materials merchants increased 2.1%, the biggest advance since February.

• Receipts at gasoline stations surged 5.8% after a 4.1% increase the prior month.

• Sales at restaurants and bars rose 0.8%, the most since January.

• Purchases also increased at general merchandise stores, Internet retailers and clothing outlets.

With assistance by Chris Middleton