Retail sales drop in July, in all the expected sectors

To no one's surprise, the Commerce Department retail sales figures for July were down. Total sales were $342.3 billion, 0.1 percent below June, and down 8.3 percent from a year earlier.

Retail stores were flat from last month, down 0.1 percent, but dropped 9.4 percent below July 2008.
Gas stations took a worse hit, sinking 32.5 percent below last year. The drop may be due in part to the plummeting price of crude oil, which peaked in early July 2008 at $147 a barrel -- which sent the average U.S. price of gasoline per gallon to an all-time high of $4.11. Crude oil today is at $70.60 a barrel.

Another no-surprise finding: home and garden store sales dropped 14.7 percent. Given the state of the housing sector, furnishing and landscaping are not a high priority for American households.

The only categories in the plus column are health-and-personal-care stores, which sold 4.7 percent more this July than last, and food-service and drink places, which were up 1.9 percent over last year.

This all matches with the sour mood of consumers everywhere. Even the most optimistic retailers are forecasting merely flat sales for the back-to-school season. The federal government says a recovery is just starting to emerge; shoppers, however, will believe it when they see it.
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