Retail spending is on the rise, despite challenges.

There were a lot of factors working against US retail sales in September. Issues with the global supply chain are creating shortages of goods. Fears around the delta variant may deter shoppers from going into stores. The government ended federal unemployment benefits for millions of Americans. And, of course, inflation.

And yet, retail sales rose 0.7% in September — far surpassing the 0.2% drop that economists were predicting.

Sporting goods, music, and book stores led the way with a 3.7% increase. General merchandise increased 2%.

The jump in sales is, in part, seasonal: Students are heading back to school, this time for in-person learning. Along with needing new supplies and clothing for the school year, many teens are now vaccinated. So, they may have more freedom to return to malls or their favorite stores.

And, as workers return to the office, there are more people shopping on their lunch break and after work.

However, while decreasing COVID cases are helping certain sectors, others remain stalled. Restaurants and bars saw a gain of just 0.3% last month, despite overall food and beverage spending increasing 0.7%. This may signal coronavirus fears are keeping diners at home. It could also mean that the home cooking trends that emerged last year haven’t subsided, at least not yet. This could be another blow to an industry that is sorely in need of a break.

Rising prices are also bolstering spending numbers. Take gasoline, for example. Once the summer travel season ends and demand wanes, the cost of gas historically decreases. However, slow recovery from hurricanes and high demand have made for limited supplies and higher prices at the pump. This drove sales at gas stations up 38.2% from a year ago.

For now, the outlook is positive for the rest of the year. In fact, even with occasional month-over-month declines, retail sales have grown year-over-year every month since June 2020.

Halloween shopping is expected to buoy retail sales in October. And a number of retailers, including Target and Walmart, have already begun their Black Friday promotions and consumers are taking advantage of them. Pervasive shipping delays are motivating shoppers to make holiday purchases earlier than usual this year.

Over the past two years, we have seen unsteady progress in the recovery from both the global economic downturn and COVID. So, while it’s too early to declare victory over either yet, the data is pointing to hopeful signs that we may be turning the corner on both. Finally.

Danilo Diazgranados is an independent investor in the global food and wine, financial services, real estate, and the hospitality sectors.



Investor in and lover of fine wine and restaurants.

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