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Kass: Parsing the Retail Sales Data

This column originally appeared on Real Money Pro on March 13.

NEW YORK (Real Money) -- After Mastercard (MA) issued some cautionary remarks, the key to trading today might lie in the February retail sales data, and the report was better than expected.

Let's parse through it.

With a gain of +1.1% (driven importantly by a 5% gain in gas station sales), retail sales were twice the expected forecast.

Excluding autos and gas, the gain was +0.4%.

In terms of composition, autos, building materials, clothing and food/beverages were better.

Sales were lower in department stores, sporting goods, electronics, furniture and restaurants/bars.

Yesterday on Real Money Pro, I highlighted the gain in household net worths that could buoy the consumer over the near term.

Though the retail print was a pleasant surprise for investors, I remain of the view that the stock market has more than discounted the news and is ignoring the ongoing risks to global economic and to U.S. corporate profits and margin growth.

The forward-looking refinancing applications (-5.2%) and mortgage applications data have begun to fall as the 30-year fixed mortgage rate rises to the highest level since late last summer.

It is important not to lose sight that refinancing cash flow is an important component of household cash flow, which assists spending.

Though household net worths have risen and February retail sales were better than forecast, with slowing cash flows from refis, slowing tax refunds, higher payroll tax rates, rising gasoline prices and cuts in government spending, the American consumer faces numerous headwinds.

The strength in retail could aid the U.S. dollar, which, as discussed in "The Big Picture," could impede corporate profits growth.

At the time of publication, Kass and/or his funds had no positions in the stocks mentioned, although holdings can change at any time.

Doug Kass is the president of Seabreeze Partners Management Inc. Under no circumstances does this information represent a recommendation to buy, sell or hold any security.

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