US: Retail Sales


Fri Jan 12 07:30:00 CST 2018

Consensus Consensus Range Actual Previous Revised
Retail Sales - M/M change 0.5% 0.2% to 0.7% 0.4% 0.8% 0.9%
Retail Sales less autos - M/M change 0.4% 0.1% to 0.8% 0.4% 1.0% 1.3%
Less Autos & Gas - M/M Change 0.4% 0.2% to 0.6% 0.4% 0.8% 1.2%
Control Group – M/M change 0.3% 0.3% to 0.6% 0.3% 0.8% 1.4%

Highlights
It was a very good holiday shopping season but perhaps not a great one. Retail sales rose a solid 0.4 percent in December which is just shy of Econoday's consensus though November is revised 1 tenth higher to what is a standout gain of 0.9 percent. Core readings show similar strength with all pointing to a solid consumer contribution to fourth-quarter GDP.

Nonstore retailers, a component which e-commerce dominates, did in fact have a great season. Sales here rose 1.2 percent in December on top of November's 4.2 percent surge. These gains no doubt came at the expense of brick-and-mortar boxes as general merchandise inched only 0.1 percent and 0.3 percent higher in the two months with the sub-component for department stores down a very noticeable 1.1 percent in December. Clothing stores are another December disappointment, falling 0.3 percent and reflecting price discounting as evidenced in the apparel reading of this morning's consumer price report.

But furniture stores had a very good season with December and November gains of 0.6 percent and 0.5 percent. And in further evidence of housing strength, building material sales jumped 1.2 percent in December following November's 0.5 percent gain. Restaurants are also positive with December and November gains of 0.7 and 0.5 percent. Vehicle sales rose 0.2 percent in December with gasoline sales unchanged.

The consumer was alive during the holidays but not unrestrained. Likely gains underway in wages along with the enormous strength in confidence and in the labor market are positives going into the 2018 economy.

Market Consensus Before Announcement
November's opening of the holiday shopping season proved very strong as retail sales showed broad strength with a 0.8 percent gain. Nonstore sales rose sharply and pointed to a fast holiday opening for e-commerce. Electronics and appliance stores along with restaurants also posted strong numbers that speak to discretionary strength. Retail sales in December are expected to rise a solid 0.5 percent with ex-auto sales at 0.4 percent. Two core readings -- less auto & gas and control group sales -- are expected to post respective increases of 0.4 and 0.3 percent.

Definition
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.



Description
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.

Importance
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.

Interpretation
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.