Retail sales declined 1.8% in November, better than the 2.2% decline that was expected by economists, and producer prices continued their march downward, falling 2.2% during the month, according to a pair of government reports issued Friday morning.
The retail sales numbers, which come out of the Census Bureau in the Commerce Department, signaled a better November than had been feared, with advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for November, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, at $355.7 billion, a decrease of 1.8%. That, however, was 7.4% below November 2007.
Total sales for the September through November 2008 period were down 4.5% from the same period a year ago. Much of the downward pressure was put on the numbers by the auto and energy sectors, with motor vehicle and parts dealers sales down 25.2% from November 2007 and gasoline station sales down 22.0% from last year.
The Labor Department, meanwhile, said the Producer Price Index for finished goods fell 2.2% in November, seasonally adjusted, following decreases of 2.8% in October and 0.4% in September. Further up the supply chain, prices received by manufacturers of intermediate goods dropped 4.3% in November after falling 3.9% in the prior month, and the crude goods index declined 12.5% on top of an 18.6% decrease in October.
The markets seemed to take the news in stride during early morning trading.The Dow and S&P 500 indices were down 1.3%, mostly in reaction to the failure of a bailout plan for the Big Three automakers in the Senate Thursday night and the late Thursday afternoon arrest of a legendary Wall Street broker, Bernard L. Madoff, on charges of securities fraud.