IT: Retail Sales

April 7, 2017 03:00 CDT

Consensus Actual Previous Revised
Month over Month -0.1% -0.3% 1.4%
Year over Year -1.0% -0.1% 0.0%

Retailers had a poor February. Sales excluding autos fell 0.3 percent versus January when they rose an unrevised 1.4 percent. This was their third decline in the last four months and saw unadjusted annual growth slip to minus 1.0 percent from 0.0 percent last time.

The soft nominal picture was more than matched by volumes which declined a sharper 0.7 percent on the month, also their third decrease since last October. However, at least discretionary spending held up with non-food purchases advancing a minimal 0.1 percent after a 0.9 percent gain in January. Food contracted 1.1 percent although that was after a 2.3 percent surge at the start of the year.

Courtesy of the strong January, average overall volume sales in January/February are still 0.1 percent above their fourth quarter mean and a small increase in March would be enough to secure a positive contribution to first quarter real GDP growth. Nonetheless, sales remain very sluggish and current levels of consumer confidence hardly argue in favour of any significant acceleration over coming months.

Retail sales measure the total receipts at stores that sell durable and nondurable goods. The headline data are expressed in nominal terms but volume statistics are also available. Autos are excluded. Only a very limited breakdown of subsector performance is available in the first report but much greater detail is provided in the following month's release.

With consumer spending a large part of the economy, market players continually monitor spending patterns. Retail sales are a measure of consumer well-being. 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.