|Month over Month||0.5%||-2.3%||-0.5%||-0.1%|
|Year over Year||3.2%||3.5%||2.6%||3.3%|
Retail sales followed a smaller revised 0.1 percent dip in February with a surprisingly hefty 2.3 percent monthly slump in March. The drop was the steepest since December 2013 but friendly base effects were enough to ensure that the first back-to-back decline since April/May 2014 still boosted unadjusted annual growth from 2.5 percent to 3.2 percent. Nonetheless, the level of sales at quarter-end was the weakest since last October.
March's setback means that first quarter purchases were up only 0.5 percent versus the fourth quarter when they rose a solid 1.2 percent. This looks odd in the context of a raft of strong consumer surveys. In particular, at 53.0 the retail sector PMI last month posted its highest reading since last June.
Looking ahead, the latest GfK survey not only suggested that consumer confidence continued to climb in April but also saw it reaching its highest mark since October 2001 in May. With buying intentions slipping but remaining at historically high levels this month, the chances are that March's reversal in sales will prove only temporary. Indeed, there is every chance of a positive revision next month.
That said, as they currently stand the new figures provide further reason for adopting a somewhat more cautious view of first quarter German GDP growth.
Retail sales measure the total receipts at stores that sell durable and nondurable goods. The data are compiled from about 27,000 retail businesses and are reported in both nominal and volume terms.
With consumer spending a large part of the economy, market players continually monitor spending patterns. Retail sales are a measure of consumer well-being. Both the Federal Statistical Office and the Bundesbank publish retail trade data. Until recently, there were vast differences between them, primarily because they each used a different seasonal adjustment program. This difference ended when the Statistical Office began using the U.S. Census Arima X12 methodology as well as their Berlin method. Another difference is that the Federal Statistical Office data are generally for total retail sales while the Bundesbank data features sales excluding autos and petrol stations or excluding only autos. The data here are for total retail sales.
The pattern in consumer spending is often the foremost influence on stock and bond markets. For stocks, strong economic growth translates to healthy corporate profits and higher stock prices. For bonds, the focus is whether economic growth goes overboard and leads to inflation. Ideally, the economy walks that fine line between strong growth and excessive (inflationary) growth.
Retail sales not only give you a sense of the big picture, but also the trends among different types of retailers. Perhaps auto sales are especially strong or apparel sales are showing exceptional weakness. These trends from the retail sales data can help you spot specific investment opportunities, without having to wait for a company's quarterly or annual report.