|Retail Sales - M/M change||0.3%||0.0% to 1.0%||0.2%||0.6%||0.7%|
|Retail Sales less autos - M/M change||0.2%||-0.2% to 0.6%||0.1%||0.4%||0.6%|
|Less Autos & Gas - M/M Change||0.4%||0.2% to 0.5%||0.3%||0.4%||0.7%|
For a second report in a row, upward revisions highlight solid growth in retail sales. Retail sales rose 0.2 percent in August with ex-auto at plus 0.1 percent and ex-auto ex-gas at plus 0.3 percent. These are all 1 tenth below consensus. July, however, shows broad upward revisions with total sales at a very strong plus 0.7 percent vs an initial plus 0.6 percent. Ex-auto for July is revised upward by 2 tenths to plus 0.6 percent and ex-auto ex-gas revised upward by 3 tenths to plus 0.7 percent.
Turning first to strength in the August data, motor vehicles rose 0.7 percent on top of July's 1.4 percent gain. These are very solid readings for a very important component that points squarely at a healthy and confident consumer. Restaurants, another component tied to discretionary health, rose a very strong 0.7 percent to extend a run of gains. On the weak side are gasoline stations where, due to lower gas prices, sales fell 1.8 percent. But this decline actually underscores one of the reasons behind the consumer's health unlike, however, declines in building materials, down 1.8 percent, and furniture, down 0.9 percent. Yet both of these declines follow very strong gains in the prior month.
Taken together, July and August point to a very strong start to the third quarter for the consumer, a fact that plays into the hands of the hawks at this week's FOMC. Still, the doves can argue that slowing in August could point to negative effects from China-based volatility.
Market Consensus Before Announcement
Retail sales are expected to rise 0.3 percent in August, a moderate gain that would not change the fate of the week's FOMC meeting. But the range of forecasts is wide and a print near the top forecast of 1.0 percent could very well lift the chances of a rate hike. And strength in the month is seen in core sales reflected in the ex-auto ex-gas reading which is expected to rise a solid 0.4 percent. Gasoline stations are expected to post sharply lower sales in line with the month's fall in gasoline prices.
Retail sales measure the total receipts at stores that sell merchandise and related services to final consumers. Sales are by retail and food services stores. Data are collected from the Monthly Retail Trade Survey conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census. Essentially, retail sales cover the durables and nondurables portions of consumer spending. Consumer spending typically accounts for about two-thirds of GDP and is therefore a key element in economic growth.
Consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of the economy, so if you know how the consumer sector is faring, you'll have a pretty good handle on where the economy is headed. Needless to say, that's a big advantage for investors.
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 becomes excessive 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.
Balance was achieved through much of the nineties. For this reason alone, investors in the stock and bond markets enjoyed huge gains during the bull market of the 1990s. Retail sales growth did slow down in tandem with the equity market in 2000 and 2001, but then rebounded at a healthy pace between 2003 and 2005. By 2007, the credit crunch was well underway and starting to undermine growth in consumer spending. Later in 2008 and 2009, the rise in unemployment and loss of income during the recession also cut into retail sales. Spending rebounded in 2010 and 2011 but was constrained by lingering high unemployment.
Retail sales are a major indicator of consumer spending trends because they account for nearly one-half of total consumer spending and approximately one-third of aggregate economic activity.
Strong retail sales are bearish for the bond market, but favorable for the stock market, particularly retail stocks. Sluggish retail sales could lead to a bond market rally, but will probably be bearish for the stock market.
Retail sales are subject to substantial month-to-month variability. In order to provide a more accurate picture of the consumer spending trend, follow the three-month moving average of the monthly percent changes or the year-over-year percent change. Retail sales are also subject to substantial monthly revisions, which makes it more difficult to discern the underlying trend. This problem underscores the need to monitor the moving average rather than just the latest one month of data.
In an attempt to avoid the more extreme volatility, economists and financial market participants monitor retail sales less autos (actually less auto dealers which include trucks, too.) Motor vehicle sales are excluded not because they are irrelevant, but because they fluctuate more than overall retail sales. In recent years, many analysts consider the core series to be total less autos and less gasoline service station sales. The latter is volatile due to swings in oil and gasoline prices.
Price changes affect the real value of retail sales. Watch for changes in food and energy prices which could affect two large components among nondurable goods stores: food stores and gasoline service stations. Large declines in food or energy prices could lead to declines in store sales which are due to price, not volume. This would mean that real sales were stronger than nominal dollar sales.
Since economic performance depend on real, rather than nominal growth rates, compare the trend growth rate in retail sales to that in the CPI for commodities.