(Bloomberg) — So much for a merry Christmas.
Even though investors entered the holidays expecting a surge of spending, figures released Thursday by the Commerce Department show that wasn’t the case. U.S. retail sales fell in December from the previous month, not the slight increase economists had been expecting. That marks the biggest drop since 2009.
The economic data backs up what some big consumer companies have already indicated: Sales weakened in December after a strong start to the holiday period during an earlier-than-normal Black Friday weekend. Even low gas prices and a more confident consumer couldn’t make up for an extended holiday season with promotions and free-shipping deals that started months before Christmas.
The disappointing holiday-period spending doesn’t bode well for the next round of apparel and department-store results, scheduled for release in coming weeks. Walmart (NYSE:) Inc., the world’s biggest retailer, reports its fourth-quarter results next week. Macy’s Inc., Best Buy Co (NYSE:). and Nordstrom Inc (NYSE:). will also report before the end of the month. Macy’s Chief Executive Officer Jeff Gennette already warned in January that sales “weakened in the mid-December period and did not return to expected patterns until the week of Christmas.”
Not only was the report on December spending disappointing, but it also came much later than normal. Wall Street usually gets numbers on year-end spending by mid-January, but the partial federal-government shutdown meant those results were postponed by nearly a month.