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Slowing Trend in Canadian Retail SalesContinues

Highlights:

  • Retail sales edged 0.1% lower in December but were up 0.2% excluding price changes.
  • E-commerce sales were up 4.6% from a year-ago. That was down sharply from 21% increases in each of the two prior months and could imply weaker late-holiday shopping.
  • We are monitoring unchanged GDP in December and just a 1.1% increase in the quarter.

Our Take:

Canadian retail sales edged 0.1% lower in December, although were a somewhat stronger +0.2% excluding price effects. A drop in gasoline prices explained almost all of a 3.6% drop in sales at gasoline stations. Motor vehicle sales increased 1.0% but electronics sales fell 4% after rising 2.1% in November.

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For all of 2018 the volume of retail sales increase by 0.7% — well-below the almost 6% increase in 2017. And more recent trends have been if anything softer. Retail volumes were unchanged in the fourth quarter. Higher interest rates and slower housing markets have had the expected dampening impact on household spending, but from the Bank of Canada’s perspective that is not entirely unwanted given concerns about household debt accumulation. With the economy still running around capacity limits, and interest rates still historically low, we continue to expect there is room for interest rates to eventually move moderately higher but not likely until further confirmation emerges that business investment and exports are picking up at least some of the slack from slower household spending growth. And that will take some time with aggregate GDP growth measures likely to be subdued in the near-term by disruptions to production in the energy sector.

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