Retail Sales Beat Following Sharp January Downward Revision: Control Group Decline Continues

When retail sales last month came in far weaker than expected, it was the weather's fault. A month later, we find that the January retail sales were even weaker than expected, with the headline number revised from a -0.4% drop to -0.6%, the ex autos number revised from unchanged to -0.3%, and the ex autos and gas whose drop more than doubled from -0.2% to -0.5%. Oh well: one can't go back in time and force the algos to soar even more (since everyone knows bad news is great news). So how about February? Well, apparently it warmed up because despite expectations of a 0.2% increase in headline and ex auto and gas retail sales, the actual prints were 0.3% for both, beating by the tiniest of margins, yet net lower when adding the January revision. Of course, what happens in April, when the March data too is revised lower, is irrelevant - all that will matter is the current month numbers all of which recently seem to get an odd "optimism" boost that promptly fades away in no time.

Finally, let's ignore that the unadjusted February number was actually a decline from $390billion to $385 billion. Then again seasonal adjustments only matter these days when they are used to scapegoat.

For those curious just how much real "growth" there is in retail spending, here is the annual change in the control group, which excludes food, auto dealers, building materials and gas stations, and feeds directly into GDP: it rose 0.3% from January, even as January was sharply revised from -0.2% to -0.6%, meaning net impact on GDP for Q1 is negative!

As for the breakdown of sales by category, it would appear that in February Americans weren on a sporting goods, hobby book and music store buying spree, with the sales print up 2.5%, and the other notable increase was in non-store retailers, i.e. Internet Sales, up 1.2% which would make sense if one is trying to scapegoat the weather. There were sales declines in Electronics and Appliance stores, Food and beverage stores and General Merchandise stores: hardly the stuff of robust spending recoveries.


Finally, a bonus chart via @Not_Jim_Cramer - retail sales vs consumer confidence.


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