While holiday shoppers gave retailers a lift, small-business owners continued to fret about weaker sales and higher wages. Here's a look at this week's economic developments and how they may impact your business.
Owner Optimism Dips
Weaker sales, fewer job openings, and higher wages soured the mood for small-business owners in November, the National Federation of Independent Business reported on Tuesday.
The Washington-based lobby's monthly small-business optimism index slipped one point from October to 99.7, slightly below its benchmark level of 100, the report said. The index is based on a survey of the group's 600,000 members. Typically about a quarter of its members take part in the surveys.
Despite the declines, more owners said they were planning to increase employment and expecting higher sales in the months ahead, the report said.
Over the next three months, a net 18 percent of respondents said they planned to create new jobs, compared to only six percent who are planning reductions -- the highest job-creation levels on record after the dot-com era, the report said.
Retail Sales Pick Up
An early start to holiday shopping boosted retail sales by 1 percent in November, the first increase in more than three months, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday.
Led by stronger demand at electronics and appliance stores, building-materials and garden-equipment dealers, and gas stations, total sales for the month reached $368.9 billion, a 5.6 percent increase from the same period last year, the report said.
Holiday shopping continued to lift sales in the week ending Dec. 9, increasing retail-sales growth by 3.2 percent on a year-over-year basis, the International Council of Shopping Centers said Tuesday.
"Once again, the holiday season will come down to the strength of last-minute buying," Michael Niemira, the trade group's chief economist, said in a statement.
Meanwhile, slower demand for lumber, machinery, and drugs, among other goods, dragged sales at merchant wholesalers down by 0.5 percent to $327.8 billion in October, the Commerce Department reported on Monday.
The weaker sales pace boosted inventories by 0.8 percent to $392.9 billion, pushing the ratio of sales to inventories for month up to 1.20, compared to 1.15 over the same period last year, the report said.
Import, Export Prices Up
Declines in imported petroleum prices kept total import prices to a modest 0.2 percent increase in November, while export prices rose by 0.4 percent, the Labor Department reported on Thursday.
Excluding petroleum prices, which fell by 1.6 percent over the month, total import prices increased by 0.7, the report said.
A 4.4 percent jump in agricultural goods led gains in export prices, which had declined in the past two months, the report said.
The previous month, cheaper oil prices helped narrow the U.S. trade deficit by 8.4 percent to $58.9 billion in October, the sharpest decline in nearly five years, the Commerce Department said on Tuesday.
At the same time, a surge in holiday shopping for computers, video games, and other electronics increased the trade gap with China by 6.1 percent to a record-high $24.4 billion, the report said.
Jobless Claims Fall
New claims for unemployment benefits dropped by 20,000 to 304,000 last week, the Labor Department reported on Thursday.
The national insured unemployment rate for the week ending Dec. 2 was 1.9 percent, unchanged from the previous week, the report said.
The biggest declines last week were in Texas, Wisconsin, and Arkansas, while gains were reported in North Carolina, Georgia, and Pennsylvania, the report said.