Retail sales edge up
Retail sales rose 0.3% from the previous month in November, and 18.2% above November 2020, as businesses continued to rebound from the pandemic slowdown, according to the Department of Commerce retail report issued December 15. Total sales for the three-month period of September through November were up 16.2% from the same period a year ago.
Building material sales were up 0.7% in November from the previous month and up 9.3% from a year earlier, while department store sales were down 5.4% for the month but up 24.9% from a year earlier. Auto sales were unchanged from the previous month but up 13.3% from a year earlier. Non-store retailers (primarily online) were also unchanged for the month, but up 12.1% from a year earlier.
With consumers returning to restaurants and bars, sales at food services and drinking establishments were up 1.0% from the previous month, and up 37.4% from a year earlier.
Best-ever employment year ends with a thud
The U.S. economy added only about 199,000 jobs in December, which was about half the number economists had projected. But the unemployment rate dropped by 0.3% to 3.9% – the lowest level since the pandemic began – according to the Employment Situation Report issued January 7 by the Department of Labor (DOL). That compares with a 6.7% unemployment rate at the end of 2020.
For the year, the economy added 6.4 million jobs, the most since 1939 when the DOL began keeping records – with job gains recorded every single month of the year. The low number of new jobs reported in December was surprising since an ADP Employment Report issued earlier in the week estimated more than 800,000 new private sector jobs for the month.
One contributing factor to the disappointing total was the high number of workers who have been leaving their jobs. In November, for instance, a record 4.5 million people quit their jobs, although many of them left to switch to other jobs, according to the DOL. While 4.5 million people quit, businesses hired 6.7 million new workers during the same month.
The leisure and hospitality industry added 53,000 jobs in December and 2.6 million in all of 2021. Professional and business services added 43,000 jobs in December, while manufacturing added 25,000 jobs.
Average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by $0.19 to $31.31 in December, a 4.7% increase over the December 2020 pay rate of $29.81.
Energy & Real Estate lead all sectors
The Energy sector of the S&P 500 was up 54.64% in 2021 to lead all sectors, while Real Estate was up 46.19%. Other leading sectors included Financials, up 35.04% for the year, Information Technology, up 34.53%, and Materials, up 27.28%. All 11 sectors posted double-digit gains for the year.
The chart below shows the results of the 11 sectors for the past month, past quarter, and all of 2021: