And so the great American retail recovery continues being delayed following the third consecutive miss in headline retail sales in a row, despite what was ridiculous and erroneously touted as a record spending season. Well here come the 'product returns' as retailer margins shrink further into negative territory. Today's advance retail sales number came at 0.4% on expectations of a 0.8% increase, from a downward revised 0.0% (0.1% previously), which makes a mockery of both the car sales numbers in December which were the weakest link in today's retail sales, and of surging consumer credit as it proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that US consumers are now using credit cards for the most basic of staples, forget discretionary purchases! And while the number below the headlines was modestly better with ex autos and gas coming at 0.6% on expectations of 0.5%, the prior revision took December to a decline -0.2% from a previously unchanged number. In other words, expect today's ex cars and gas number to be revised to a miss next month as as the Census Bureau learns some key number fudging lessons from the BLS. Yet here is the punchline: there have not been three consecutive retail sales misses since... drumroll please... July 2008. And we all know what happened in the months following. For those who don't, here it is.