First quarter retail sales decline in Tri-Cities

Hank Hayes • Jun 18, 2013 at 8:41 PM

Retail sales slumped in each of the Tri-Cities during 2013’s first quarter, according to a report issued Tuesday by the East Tennessee State University Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

“This report describes a troubling turn in retail performance at the national, state, and local levels,” the report’s analysis said. “In the weak recovery from the Great Recession of 2008-09, retail growth has been one of the positive elements in the overall business picture. We may be seeing the end of that retail recovery.”

Bristol saw a sales drop of 6.5 percent during the winter months, Kingsport’s drop was 5 percent and Johnson City’s was 2 percent. Johnson City’s retail sales have fallen for three quarters in a row while Kingsport has seen two down quarters out of the last three.

Bristol recorded $243 million in quarterly sales compared to $259.9 million in the first quarter of 2012. Johnson City went from $453.6 million last year to $452.7 million in this year’s first quarter. Kingsport reported $352.7 million compared to $354.3 million in last year’s first quarter.

Dollar sales in the Tri-Cities Combined Statistical Area fell 3.2 percent to $1.5 billion. Retail volume in the metro area has now fallen for four quarters in a row, according to the ETSU report.

The pace of the national retail recovery slowed again during the winter months with the poorest growth performance in three years. The U.S. economy did report an increase in sales volume during the quarter, but that increase was only 1.4 percent, which is less than half of the growth rate in the preceding 12 quarters.

In Tennessee, dollar sales increased only 0.9 percent to $21 billion. Once adjusted for inflation, sales activity in the state fell 0.8 percent below 2012 levels.

“This marks the end of 11 straight quarters of real growth in retail sales,” the report said of Tennessee’s retail performance. “During the preceding recession period, state sales volume declined for 10 consecutive quarters.”

Analysts, the report pointed out, have linked the decline in retail performance to severe winter weather and weaker employment conditions.

“But even after these factors are taken into account, there seems to be a significant drop in consumer confidence and level of spending,” the report’s analysis noted. “As discussed in the first quarter labor market report, the economic outlook is now more uncertain. Both the labor markets and the retail markets are showing signs of fatigue after nearly three years of driving the economic recovery.”

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