Until last month, BofA's track record of correctly predicting whether the month's retail sales print would beat or miss expectations, was flawless thanks largely to the bank's access to the data from tens of millions of debit and credit card issued directly by it and which give it a first-hand view of how much America spends at any given moment. However, like every streak, this one also eventually ended, and in this case it did so by forecasting a small miss in the September retail sales data...
... even though the final nominal print as reported by the government was a big beat, rising 0.7% sequentially (above the -0.2% consensus exp) with August data also revised higher, while core retail sales came especially hot at 0.8% (although some have speculated that the recent surge in inflation has forced outsized consumer spending as Americans rush to buy thing now instead of waiting for a few months or weeks to pay a higher price).
In any case, ahead of Tuesday's retail sales data, we were curious if the September retail sales surge would be a one-time outlier, or if the year-end spending splurge would continue.
Well, according to the latest data from BofA, spending as measured by Bank of America aggregated credit and debit cards surged 27% over a 2-year period for the 7-days ending Nov 6. This was mostly pushed up by the timing of the pay period at the start of the month but smoothing through, BofA's economists are continuing to see solid spending trends.
Some more details: Retail sales ex-autos, based on aggregated BAC card data, increased 0.9% mom SA, in line with consensus.
At the same time, total retail sales rose 1.3%, higher than Bloomberg consensus, even though ax-autos and gas, BofA sees a small miss compared to consensus, at 0.7% vs 1.1%.
The bank observed strength across-the-board with a 1% mom SA gain in restaurant spending, 1.3% mom SA in department stores and 1.4% mom SA in general merchandise stores. Outside of the retail sales aggregate, spending was even stronger with a 16% mom SA pop in spending on airfare and 4.6% mom SA in lodging.
Meanwhile, following up on a recent curious spending divergence, when as we noted in October "Poor Americans' Credit Card Usage Spikes As Their Savings Run Out", BofA dug deeper into debit vs credit card spending trends for the lowest vs. highest tier of income (< $50K vs. > $125K, respectively). Using the monthly SA data, the bank found that debit card spending is up 34% over a 2-year period for the lowest income cohort as of October. In contrast, debit card spending for the highest income cohort is up 16% over a 2-year period.
For the lower income cohort, debit card has been running above credit card spending growth since the pandemic but - as noted last month - recently credit card has been catching up.
The highest income group has seen a comparable growth rate in debit and credit card spending since the pandemic. According to BofA, this shows the influence of the accumulated savings from fiscal transfer payments to the lower income cohort which facilitated greater debit card spending, although as we also noted recently, the fact that it has now plateaued indicates that lower-income household will soon spend most if not all of their "excess savings."
One final observation from BofA relates to the rapid normalization in spending on daycare, which increased sharply and is now only 10% below 2019 levels vs. in the summer when it was about 20% below.
This is important data to monitor in regards to the reentry of working parents to the workforce.