by Stephen Garner

Mall-ShoppersThe National Retail Federation today released its economic forecast for 2017, projecting that retail industry sales, which exclude automobiles, gasoline stations and restaurants, will grow between 3.7 and 4.2 percent over 2016. Online and other non-store/online sales, which are included in the overall number, are expected to increase between 8 and 12 percent.

“The economy is on firm ground as we head into 2017 and is expected to build on the momentum we saw late last year,” said Matthew Shay, president and CEO of NRF. “With jobs and income growing and debt relatively low, the fundamentals are in place and the consumer is in the driver’s seat. But this year is unlike any other – while consumers have strength they haven’t had in the past, they will remain hesitant to spend until they have more certainty about policy changes on taxes, trade and other issues being debated in Congress. Lawmakers should take note and stand firm against any policies, rules or regulations that would increase the cost of everyday goods for American consumers.”

The retail trade organization also forecasts that the economy is expected to gain an average of approximately 1600,000 jobs a month. The number is down slightly from 2016 but consistent with labor market growth. Additionally, unemployment is expected to drop to 4.5 percent by the end of the year, while economic growth is likely to be in the range of 1.9 to 2.4 percent.

“Prospects for consumer spending are straightforward – more jobs and more income will result in more spending,” added Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist at NRF. “Regardless of sentiment, the pace of wage growth and job creation dictate spending. Our forecast represents a baseline for the year, but potential fiscal policy changes could impact consumers and the economy. It seems unlikely that businesses will notably increase investment until tax reform and trade policies are well-defined. It is clear that online sales will continue to expand in 2017 and provide growth for the retail industry. But it is important to realize that virtually every major retailer sells online and many of those sales will be made by discount stores, department stores and other traditional retailers. Retailers sell to consumers however they want to buy, whether it’s in-store, online or mobile.”