Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Pulling Apart the Retail Sales Numbers

The U.S. Census Bureau announced today that advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for December, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $343.2 billion, a decrease of 9.8 percent below December 2007. Total sales for the 12 months of 2008 were down 0.1 percent from 2007. Total sales for the October through December 2008 period were down 7.7 percent from the same period a year ago.

Retail trade sales for December '08 were down 10.8 percent below last year. As part of that number, gasoline stations sales were down 35.5 percent.7.

As I would expect, consumer non-durables, which in my book are capital goods, represented most of the downturn, after gasoline. Oil as I have pointed out is a complex commodity used both at the industrial level and the consumer level. Thus, it is difficult to pinpoint how much of a decline in gasoline prices is related strictly to the consumer.

Auto & other motor vehicle dealers saw a 13% drop in sales versus December 2007. Furniture & home furnishings store sales were down 8%. Building material & garden equipment & supplies dealer sales were down 3.6%.

On the plus side, electronics & appliance store sales were up 0.1%. Food & beverage store sales were up 5.1%. Health & personal care store sales were up 4.0%. Sporting goods, hobby, book & music store sales were up 1.1%. General merchandise store sales were up 3.3%. Food services & drinking place sales were up 3.7%.

A couple of numbers seemed to go against the trend of lower capital good sales and higher consumer goods sales. Clothing & clothing accessories store for December '08 were down fractionally versus '07 with a drop of 1.7% (After adjustnent for inflation, this is close to a flat number). But given that laid off investment bankers aren't buying $2,000 suits this number shouldn't come as a complete surprise. Department store sales were down 4.5%, with this number, we have capital good type items like rugs and furniture packed-in, which is probably where the brunt of the decline came from.

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