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November Retail Sales Encouraging

The lack of adjustment for price changes means that sometimes increases really are not good news -- most notably in the case of gas stations. Their sales surged 4.0% on the month, and are up 9.0% from a year ago. The increase in October was well above the increase of 1.3% in October.

Clearly that is mostly a function of higher gasoline prices. In recent weeks the price of oil has rallied, and so we will probably see gas station sales rise again sharply in the December report.

Grocery store sales rose 0.8% on top of a 0.6% increase in October. That could be a bit of an indication of food price inflation, but could also be a case of people getting a bit more confident and starting to buy brand-name products rather than generic store brands. Relative to last year, sales are up 3.2%.

Food price inflation has not been a big long-term problem, at least looking back over the last year. However, food commodity prices have been strong over the last few months, and it is something to keep an eye on going forward.

Drug stores like Walgreen's (WAG) also had a pretty good month, with sales up 0.9%, accelerating from a rise of just 0.2% rise in October, and are up 5.0% year over year.

Discretionary a Mixed Bag

The more discretionary types of stores were a mixed bag. Sales at furniture stores fell by 0.5%, on top of a 1.2% decline in October. They are up 0.6% year over year. Historically, one of the biggest catalysts for buying new furniture has been when people move to a new house. With sales of both new and used homes in the doldrums, this has meant lower sales for furniture stores.

Sales at electronics and appliance stores such as Best Buy (BBY - Get Report) also dropped 0.6% on the month after having fallen 0.5% in October.

BBY reported extremely disappointing earnings and revenues this morning. The appliance side of those stores suffers from the same problem as the furniture stores, with low housing sales. In addition, electronics is one area where prices routinely fall, so some of the weakness is probably due to price, not volume.
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