Superstorm Sandy weighs on retail sales

November 14, 2012: 10:01 AM ET
hurricane retail sales
People try to get through the aisles at Whole Foods Market in New York on October 28, as residents do last minute food shopping in preparation for Hurricane Sandy.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

Retail sales fell in October for the first time in four months, as Superstorm Sandy pummeled the east coast.

Sales at auto dealers, furniture, electronics and hardware stores all fell during the month, while food stores and gasoline stations saw a slight pickup in sales.

Overall, retail sales dropped 0.3% in October, according to the Census Bureau.

Census issued an additional statement, claiming it could not precisely measure the impact from Superstorm Sandy, but the storm did distort the data. Some stores reported a drop in sales due to damage and fewer customers, whereas other firms reported sales increases as customers stocked up on storm supplies.

"Even though we cannot isolate the effect, we did receive indications from the companies that the hurricane had both positive and negative effects on the retail sales data," the Census Bureau said.

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Retail sales had been rising from July through September, an encouraging sign for the economy that corresponded with solid job growth in the sector.

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Economists are hesitant to put too much stock in the October report, given the storm-related distortions.

"It will be a bit difficult to separate how much is due to Hurricane Sandy, but I think the consumer is in relatively good shape here," said Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James.

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