US Retail Sales Tumble Into Recession Territory Driven By Auto Sales Plunge

After stumbling sideways around unch MoM for 3 months, US retail sales tumbled 0.3% in March (considerably worse than the 0.1% MoM gain expected) confirming BofA's credit card data as we warned. March's print is practically the weakest month since Feb 2015 and is unlikely to get much better given the dismally weak start to April, as we noted here. After 3 months of low-base bounce in YoY retail sales, March saw it collapse back to just 1.7% YoY - deep in recession territory.

March Retail Sales plunge...

 

The string of misses for Control Group Retail Sales continues...

 

As Auto Sales collapse 2.1% MoM... which should not surprise since US Auto Sales (SAAR), via WARD's Automative Group, tumbled 3.5% YoY to end March - the biggest YoY plunge since July 2009 (pre-Cash-for-Clunkers)...

 

and perhaps just as problematic, Restaurants tumbled 0.8% - where all the hiring has been.

 

and if you are hopeful about April, Johnson-Redbook reported a 2.8% plunge in Same-Store-Sales - the worst start to an April since 2005.

 

Finally, as Goldman notes, weakness in auto sales and production could be an unwelcome headache for the manufacturing sector. Growth in auto output has accounted for 40% of the increase in manufacturing production since January 2012, not including spillovers to related sectors (Exhibit 4).

The total effect is likely bigger, as spillovers from auto manufacturing can be significant:

  • producing $1 of motor vehicle output requires $1.8 dollars of output from all other industries - the highest “multiplier” of any sector in the economy (according to the BEA’s input-output accounts).

Although prospects for the manufacturing sector have started to look brighter, a pullback in motor vehicle activity could limit the extent of any rebound.