CH: Adjusted real retail sales

Thu Mar 01 02:15:00 CST 2018

Actual Previous Revised
Y/Y % change -1.4% 0.6% 0.7%

Retailers had a poor start to the year as sales fell a further 0.7 percent on the month, compounding a steeper revised 1.5 percent decline posted in December. Volumes have decreased in three of the last four months and annual workday adjusted growth now stands at minus 1.4 percent, its worst performance since last October.

Excluding auto fuel, purchases were at least down a slightly smaller 0.6 percent on the month and, without food, sales were off only 0.1 percent. Nonetheless, January's drop means that November's 3.0 percent surge has all but been unwound.

It was the softness of total consumer spending that helped to prevent a stronger fourth quarter GDP print (see today's calendar entry) and if January's retail sales report is anything to go by, first quarter economic growth could be similarly impacted.

Retail sales measure the total receipts at stores that sell durable and nondurable goods. The survey comprises around 4,000 companies with the small-sized firms asked to provide monthly turnover data on a quarterly basis. Statistics are provided in both nominal and volume measures; the latter is the more important for financial markets. The headline figure is the annual growth in sales volumes adjusted for differences in trading days. Seasonally adjusted monthly changes are also provided. Details are limited in the first estimate but a more complete picture is provided with the following month's release.

Consumer spending accounts for a large portion of the economy, so if you know what consumers are up to, you will have a pretty good idea on where the economy is headed. Needless to say, that is 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 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.