Retail Sales Unexpectedly Decline, Revisions Even Worse
Weakness was expected in this corner but not by those who still insist the economy is strengthening.
Retail sales declined 0.2% in March vs an Econoday consensus reading of 0.0%. Moreover, the Census Bureau revised February from +0.1% to -0.3%, and January from +0.6% to +0.5%.
First-quarter consumer spending is in trouble. Retail sales fell 0.2 percent in March which is under the Econoday consensus for no change. Importantly, February sales are revised sharply lower, to minus 0.3 percent vs an initial gain of 0.1 percent.
Vehicle sales round out the quarter with a 3rd straight sharp decline at minus 1.2 percent. Sales at gasoline stations, due to lower prices, fell 1.0 percent. But when excluding both vehicles and gasoline, sales could only manage — despite sky-high consumer confidence — a second straight 0.1 percent increase.
Other areas of weakness include sporting goods which fell 0.8 percent and furniture stores which were down 0.3 percent. And two special areas of weakness are restaurants which fell 0.6 percent for a second straight decline and building materials which fell 1.5 percent. These last two components are excluded in the control group reading which, boosted by a 2.6 percent gain for electronics & appliances and supported by a 0.3 percent increase for general merchandise, rose an outsized 0.5 percent. But even here, February sales for the control group are revised 3 tenths lower and now stand at minus 0.2 percent.
There are plenty of bad luck wildcards for March including heavy weather and late tax refunds. But today’s report also scales down what had already been a disappointing February. Total consumer spending (which includes services) came in with only 0.1 percent and 0.2 percent gains in the first two months of the year and today’s February revision points to the same for February’s retail sales component (note also that January retail sales are revised down 1 tenth to a 0.5 percent gain). Consumer spending makes up 70 percent of GDP and today’s results, however much they may raise expectations for a snap back, are certain to lower expectations for the first quarter.
This is likely to be a bigger hit to GDP than the models expect. I will comment further later today. Meanwhile, not the absurd reference to “sky-high consumer confidence”. For discussion of sentiment, please see Econoday Parrot Squawks Again after Sentiment Rebounds to 17-Year High.
Mike “Mish” Shedlock