It’s not just department stores: US retail sales are slowing in general

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Nordstrom earnings last night were bad. Very bad. When flummoxed analysts asked what happened, co-president Blake Nordstrom had trouble explaining it himself.

“We’re not economists, we’re merchants,” he said on the company’s earnings call. “And we concur with you that if you get to a higher altitude and you look at the scorecard, there are a number of economic indicators that look real positive for the US and the consumer and spending, yet all we can tell you is in our business, we saw a slowdown.”

Well, it turns out they’re not alone, as actual economists are noting. As consumer-facing companies from Walmart (pdf) to Advance Auto Parts start prepping analysts for rougher-than-expected fiscal years, the Census Department reports that US retail sales growth is grinding lower (pdf) almost everywhere.

They were up 1.7% in October from the same time last year, and only grew 0.5% if you cut out auto sales.

A portion of that (in a pretty volatile data point) is less money spent at the gas station, as fuel prices are still super-low. But that doesn’t explain everything, as gas station sales declined a little bit less. Healthcare, building materials, and non-store retailers (e-commerce and the like) excluded, everything else is slowing down.

“This is clearly a mixed report. Headline soft, revisions better.” wrote Bank of Montreal’s economics team in a note to clients. ”It doesn’t help retailers get into festive mood, however.”