Consumer Spending - February 2009
National retail sales posted a surprise increase in January. Total sales were up 1.0 percent from December, and core sales were up 0.8 percent. Despite the increase, sales remain well below year-earlier levels.
According to retailers in the District, January sales did not align with the national increase; contacts continued to report disappointing sales and traffic. District sales tax collections through January continued to decrease. All District states' sales tax revenues were significantly below year-earlier levels.
Auto dealers reported dismal vehicle sales in January for both domestic and foreign makes. Through December, District new vehicle registrations fell 37.5 percent from a year earlier while national registrations were down 34.8 percent. The decrease in District registrations continues to be driven by declining truck and SUV sales. Registrations dropped the most in Florida. Inventories of District-assembled vehicles continued to climb. With the exception of Hyundai, which introduced generous promotions, all companies assembling vehicles in the region posted double-digit sales declines for January relative to a year earlier.
Tourism activity held up in parts of the District through February. Disney World bookings were reportedly up because of their “buy four nights, get three free” promotion. Initial estimates on Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans indicate that the event was a big boost to tourism, with higher occupancy rates and stronger attendance than last year. Officials at the New Orleans Convention Bureau said attendance numbers seemed to be the biggest since Hurricane Katrina, but official attendance numbers have yet to be released. The Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau reported a record number of visitors at some of its welcome centers and a jump in participation at some snowbird events in the region. In January, gaming revenue in Mississippi increased 3.8 percent from the previous month but declined 7.1 percent from a year earlier.
The outlook for 2009 is somewhat pessimistic. Some contacts report that the economy's impact on tourism may be worse in 2009 than it was following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau reported that corporations have canceled events. They project an 8.0 percent decline in hotel taxes by fall of this year. Hotels in Miami-Dade and Broward counties are cutting room rates that were already down 7 to 8 percent in December.