Why You Should Blow Off the Retail Sales Report

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- You have two choices in looking at today's retail sales report: You can take it at face value, and worry that sales barely grew in April and missed forecasts by a good margin. Or you can scratch your head and say, "That's not right.''

The second is the better bet. The details of retail, as of April's preliminary numbers released Tuesday morning, don't jibe with other data that show auto sales doing fine and consumer confidence at its highest point in six years. In other words, when the economy created 288,000 jobs in a month, according to the Department of Labor, and not quite two weeks later the Census Bureau says consumers slashed highly discretionary spending at restaurants and bars, it's best not to get too worked up about it. And if you want to trade it, you might want to bet that it's simply wrong.

First, let's do the numbers. The Census Bureau says retail sales rose 0.1% in April, well below expectations for a 0.4% gain. And way below the 1.5% jump in March, which was revised upward this morning.

The weirdness is in the details.  Commerce says restaurant and bar spending dropped 0.9% as jobs became more plentiful and confidence rose. Growth at home-repair stores, at 0.4%, was less than half as fast as in March. And sales at auto dealers rose 0.7%, far below the 3.9% seen in March.


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