Retail and food sales rose in September despite historically high unemployment rates and a logjam in Congress over a new round of stimulus funding.
According to estimates released Friday by the U.S. Census Bureau, September brought in $549.3 billion in sales, a 1.9 percent increase from August and a 5.4 percent increase from a year ago. August’s numbers were revised to $539 billion — a 0.6 percent increase from July. The bureau surveys a sample of 5,500 retail trade employers to assess an early estimate of monthly sales.
U.S. stocks rebounded on the better-than-expected news, as investors reacted to the jump in consumer spending as a sign of economic recovery. By noon Friday, the Dow Jones industrial average was up 252 points, or nearly 0.9 percent. The S&P 500 was trading up almost 20 points, or nearly 0.6 percent, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index was up 43 points, or almost 0.4 percent.
Compared with a year ago, department store sales were down 7.3 percent and gas station sales were down 13.3 percent, even though 11.1 percent more customers bought cars — suggesting all those new wheels haven’t seen much road time during the pandemic.
Some businesses saw major gains last month compared with the year before: E-commerce retailer sales were up 23.8 percent; building material and garden supply sales were up 19.1 percent; and grocery store sales were up 9.6 percent. Dow Jones analysts expected just a 0.7 percent increase in sales during September.
“Whoever becomes president will inherit a better economy than we thought just a few weeks ago,” Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist for MUFG, said in a statement Friday that predicted a stronger economy in the fourth quarter. “Fears of covid-19 [are] not stopping the money flowing through the economy like crazy right now.”
The Washington Post