IT: Retail Sales

May 9, 2017 03:00 CDT

Actual Previous Revised
Month over Month 0.0% -0.3% -0.2%
Year over Year -0.4% -1.0% -0.7%

Retailers had a poor March. Excluding autos, sales were only flat on the month and so failed to reverse any of February's slightly smaller revised 0.2 percent decline. Unadjusted annual growth was minus 0.4 percent, up from minus 0.7 percent last time courtesy of a fall in March 2016.

The stable monthly headline reflected no change in non-food sales and a 0.1 percent dip in purchases of food. However, volumes were slightly firmer with the former up 0.1 percent and the latter 0.3 percent higher.

March's update puts first quarter total volume sales just 0.1 percent above their fourth quarter level and so matches that period's gain. The retail sector continues to provide no significant lift to overall economic growth and, in the absence of this, it is hard to see the current sluggish recovery in real GDP gaining any sustainable additional momentum over coming quarters. Consumer confidence in April was essentially flat.

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.