Retail sales growth down again in late 2018

The latest Ed Strapagiel analysis finds that sales growth for the entire year will likely come in at under 3%.

Retail sales for November 2018 are now in, and it seems almost “certain” that the year will have been one of the worst in recent memory for Canadian retail, according to a new report from Ed Strapagiel, whose analysis is based on the most recent Statistics Canada data.

For the three-month period ended November 2018, retail sales grew by 1.4% year-over-year – not enough to outpace inflation. Data for the first eleven months of 2018 show sales were up by only 3%, and are expected to finish the year at around 2.9% – a far cry from the 7.1% gains recorded in 2017, Strapagiel notes.

Sales in the food and drug category has tapered off in recent months, after a steady decline dating back to late 2017. After eleven months, growth was at 1.5% for the sector. The three-month period ended in November was slightly better, at 2.3%. “Although hardly stellar, this still indicates slightly improving performance, or at least things aren’t getting any worse,” the analyst writes.

The slow return to higher growth rates was driven primarily by sales in supermarkets and grocery stores, up 2.7% over the same three months. However, those gains were offset by a 0.3% decline over three months in health and personal care stores, the second largest retailer type in the sector.

Meanwhile, store merchandise is on par to reach a five-year low in 2018, driven by meagre year-over-year gains of 1.4% during the three month period.

Sales in the sector have been impacted by struggles across a number of store types: furniture stores (down 3.2 % for the three-month period), building material & garden equipment/supplies dealers (down 2.7%), sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores (down 2.4%) and home furnishings stores (down 1.3%). Clothing stores (up 3.9%) and jewellery, luggage & leather goods stores (up 3.2%) fared better. The biggest gains were found in miscellaneous store retailers, with growth of 10.1% for the period – driven by the inclusion of cannabis stores, whose sales for the month of November came in at $54.4 million.

Strapagiel reports that retail sales in the automotive and related sector are “practically in free fall.” The underlying 12-month trend, down from a year ago, “now looks much like the collapse that occurred in 2015.” On a year-to-date basis, new car dealers’ sales were up only 0.5% (down 1.0% for the three-month period), used car dealers saw gains of 6.7%, and automotive parts, accessories and tire stores led the sector with an uptick of 8.2% in sales. Fluctuating gas prices continue to have a destabilizing effect on the sector.

Ecommerce sales across pure-play and other stores accounted for 2.9% of all Canadian retail purchases for the year-to-date period ended November 2018 (but those  figures do not include sales made on foreign websites). Year-over-year sales over three months were up 18.6% (higher than 16.9% recorded for the period ending in October). However, as Strapagiel has previously noted, those sales are much lower than the 26.2% gains seen last year over the same period.