Retail sales edge up
Retail sales inched up 0.7% from the previous month in August, and 15.1% from August 2020, according to the Department of Commerce retail report issued September 16. Total sales for the three-month period of May through July were up 16.3% from the same period a year ago.
Auto sales were down 3.6% for the month of August but up 10.7% from a year earlier. Building material sales were up 0.9% for the month and up 6.3% from a year earlier. Department store sales were up 2.4% for the month and 28.6% from a year earlier, with consumers returning to brick-and-mortar retailers as the pandemic receded. However, consumers continued to shop online, with sales for non-store retailers (primarily online) moving up 5.3% for the month and 7.5% from a year earlier.
Sales at restaurants and bars were flat in August, with no change from the previous month. But sales were up 31.9% from a year earlier when many businesses were closed to walk-in traffic due to the pandemic.
Unemployment claims edge back up
In the week ending September 25, initial unemployment claims edged up to 362,000 after dropping to just 310,000 claims for the week ending September 4. That had been the lowest level for initial claims since the beginning of the pandemic, March 14, 2020, according to the Department of Labor (DOL).
The rise in unemployment claims – even as businesses throughout the country were desperately seeking workers – was attributed, in part, to the impact from Hurricane Ida, which may have caused people to delay filing for unemployment.
The U.S. economy added 235,000 new jobs in August, and the unemployment rate dropped 0.2%, from 5.4% to 5.2%, according to the Employment Situation Report issued September 3 by the DOL. Average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by $0.17 to $30.73 in August.
Energy up, all other sectors down in September
The Energy sector of the S&P 500 was up 9.44% in September to lead all sectors, but all other sectors were caught in the market downdraft, posting losses for the month. The biggest losers for the month were Materials, down 7.21%, Communication Services, down 6.58%, and Real Estate, down 6.22%.
For the 3rd quarter, Financials led the way, up 2.74%, followed by Utilities, up 1.78%, and Communication Services, up 1.60%. Through the first nine months of 2021, Energy led all sectors, up 43.22%, followed by Financials, up 29.14%, and Real Estate, up 24.38%.
The chart below shows the results of the 11 sectors for the past month, past quarter and year-to-date: