NRF: Retail sales to grow 3.4% in 2013

Retail industry sales (which exclude automobiles, gas stations, and restaurants) will increase 3.4%, down slightly from 4.2% in 2012 and 5.8% in 2011, according to the National Retail Federation’s 2013 economic forecast.

The lukewarm forecast, released Monday, comes on the heels of a holiday season that went head-to-head with Washington’s political wrangling over fiscal concerns, shifting consumers’ spending plans downward. In the end, holiday sales in 2012 grew 3.0%.

In its Monday press briefing, NRF attributed the lukewarm forecast to political wrangling in Washington over fiscal concerns, and NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay said that while it’s too early to precisely predict how recent tax hikes will impact spending, “We can safely predict that consumers will be shopping for price more often [in 2013] and there will be more ‘trading down’ occurring.”, NRF’s digital division, expects online sales in 2013 to grow between 9.0% and 12.0%. Online sales in 2012 during the months of November and December last year grew 11.1%. 

“What we witnessed during the holiday season is an indication of what we are likely to see in 2013,” said Shay. “Pushing fiscal policy decisions down the road will lead to even greater uncertainty, and will continue to impact consumers’ desire and ability to spend on discretionary items. The administration and congress need to pursue and enact policies that lead to growth and economic expansion, or it could be another challenging year for retailers and consumers alike.”

A number of factors contributed to NRF’s 2013 economic forecast, including:

Employment: The labor market continues its modest recovery but 2013 is not expected to result in meaningful acceleration in growth. As of December 2012, the unemployment rate has held steady for the last two months at 7.9%. Retailers on average employed 150,000 more workers in 2012, and the industry remains one of the biggest employers in the world.

Income growth: Consumers are constrained by modest growth in income, and recent legislation passed in January increased payroll taxes for millions of workers, further limiting Americans’ spending decisions.

Housing: NRF expects the housing sector to continue to improve and the fundamentals for growth to see continued gains in 2013.

Inflation: Price pressures continue to be contained. NRF expects the Consumer Price Index to increase 1.9% in 2013, below the 2.1% increase in 2012.

Consumer confidence: Current consumer attitudes are likely weighed down because of the handling of the fiscal cliff and the increase in payroll taxes. NRF said it expects confidence to improve as the pace of the recovery accelerates in the second half of 2013. 

“While it’s too early to know the full effect of higher payroll taxes, there’s no question that many consumers will feel some kind of impact from the change in their paychecks,” said NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz. “But consumers have been a key driver of the economy and I expect their spending to grow modestly in 2013.”

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