American consumers are definitely beginning to spend again. In November, retail sales rose 0.8% to $378.7 billion, according to the Census Bureau. On the heels of an upwardly revised sales increase of 1.7% in October, sales are now the highest they've been since before the recession began. And if the trend continues, they'll easily set a new all-time high in December.
Here's the historical chart for sales since 2000:
It's easy to see how sales plummeted during the recession and have steadily risen since early 2009. What's a little harder to see is that November had the second-best sales tally, ever. Only November 2007's sales were higher. The recession is defined to have begun the following month.
In fact, sales don't have to rise much to hit a new all-time high. In November, they were just $1.3 billion below their 2007 peak. To put that into perspective, sales have risen by at least that amount every month since July. In November, they rose by $3.1 billion. If holiday sales are strong in December, then we'll see a new high mark.
Here's the breakdown for specific segments of retail sales:
Remember, October was an incredibly strong month, so it isn't surprising to see some segments grow at a slower pace in November. The most notable difference is auto and parts sales, which went from a 5.6% increase in October to a 0.8% decline in November. Furniture and electronics are two segments that have seen weak sales over the past two months, while most other parts of the market are growing.