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With the holiday shopping season near, Friday's retail sales numbers left it to interpretation whether consumers are ready to buy or holding back.

Retail sales climbed 0.3% in October, reversing a 0.3% decline the month before, according to the Commerce Department. Excluding autos, sales rose 0.2% after a 0.1% dip in September.

Economists polled by IFR Markets expected import prices to gain 0.2% and a 0.4% rise in ex-autos.

Some analysts pointed to a decline in big ticket furniture and building materials purchases as suggesting the report might not be as strong as it appears.

Calling the gains “uneven,” Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton, said in a note, “the weakness looks like it is one of the first signs of tariffs biting on the consumer side.”

But others saw the strength in the report. “Retail activity is regaining momentum entering the key holiday shopping season,” Mickey Levy, Berenberg Capital Markets' chief economist for the U.S. Americas and Asia, and U.S. Economist Roiana Reid, write in a note.

“Barring any shock to confidence resembling last December, we expect solid consumer fundamentals to lead to a strong holiday shopping season,” they wrote. “Jobs growth and healthy gains in real earnings are lifting real disposable incomes; low interest rates are reducing debt services costs and supporting durable goods purchases; low job layoffs and mobility in labor markets are keeping worker confidence elevated.”

Manufacturing
Manufacturing remains sluggish in New York state, as the November Empire State Manufacturing Survey general business conditions index unexpectedly dropped, to 2.9 from 4.0 in October. The future general business conditions index rose to 19.4 from 17.1.

“Manufacturing firms in New York State reported that business activity was little changed from last month,” the report stated. “The general business conditions index was sluggish for the sixth consecutive month.”

“This suggests that manufacturing activity in the New York region is barely expanding,” Levy and Reid said.

Economists expected a rise to 5.0.

Industrial production was weaker than expected in October, dropping 0.8%, according to the Federal Reserve. A strike at GM may have accounted for some of the drop. Production declined in manufacturing, mining and utilities.

Production was off 0.3% in September, a tick stronger than the 0.4% decline initially reported.

Capacity utilization slipped to 76.7% in October from 77.5% a month earlier.

Economists projected a 0.4% decline in production and a 77.1% capacity use level.

“Manufacturing production excluding motor vehicles, a reliable gauge of underlying demand, declined by 0.1% m/m in October, but is up 2% annualized from three months ago, suggesting that manufacturing activity has already bottomed out, but likely to remain sluggish in the intermediate run,” according to Levy and Reid.

Business inventories were unchanged in September after slipping 0.1% the month before, while sales dropped 0.2% after a 0.1% gain in August, the Commerce Department reported. Economists expected a 0.1% increase in inventories.

Import prices fell 0.5% in October, after a revised 0.1% rise in September, first reported as a 0.2% gain, the Labor Department said. Export prices were off 0.1% in October after a 0.2% drop a month earlier. Economists expected import prices to drop 0.2% and export prices to dip 0.1%.

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Economic indicators Manufacturing industry Federal Reserve Bank of New York
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