First it was Shoppertrak, then it was the National Retail Federation, then it was IBM, and now, with its own set of internal data, here is Bank of America slamming the door shut on US retail spending as a source of Q4 growth, and proving once and for all that the extended Thanksgiving-weekend, and the start to US holiday spending season, was the biggest dud since Lehman.
The BAC internal data showed a sluggish start to the holiday shopping season. Spending on BAC credit and debit cards over Thanksgiving and Black Friday declined 1.6% yoy. In order to restrict the sample to holiday-related spending, we are measuring “core control” sales, which nets out food services, gasoline, building materials and autos, making it a comparable sample to the Census Bureau’s data. While not as dismal as the 11% yoy decline reported by the National Retail Federation (NRF), our data supports the weak anecdotes.
This is how the data looks in context, courtesy of Goldman. As we said: biggest dud since Lehman.
Of course, it wouldn't be a conflicted sell-side firm whose year end bonus is dependent on boosting confidence in a global pyramid scheme if BofA didn't provide at least some silver lining. Which it did.
Although this is clearly a negative signal, it does not mean the overall holiday shopping season will be a bust, in our view. As Chart 1 shows, the NRF data has no correlation (actually an inverse relationship) with overall holiday sales from the Census Bureau. The BAC data historically have a better fit, since it measures actual sales unlike the surveys, but it still has fairly low forecasting power. There are a few reasons to advise caution when interpreting Black Friday sales. For one, measuring sales over a two-day period is naturally noisy, but particularly since retailers adjust the promotion schedule over the years. As we show in Chart 2, the promotions start earlier each year making the “door buster” deals of Black Friday less appealing. Moreover, the shift toward online shopping provides greater access to sales and incentives, also taking the focus away from Black Friday. The bottom line is that while we tempered our optimism, we still look for holiday sales to increase this year given the improving economic backdrop.
Well, at least BofA didn't use the NRF's idiotic "the economy is too strong for shopper to need a deal" excuse. As for the spin: yes, there is still hope. Because otherwise how would one explain spending slumping to recessionary levels at a time when the Departments of Truth would have everyone believe unemployment is the lowest in nearly a decade, while GDP is supposedly growing at a pace not seen since in years (the real story of America's "adjusted" GDP was explained here).