Posts filed under “Retail”

Inflation? Not According to a Billion Prices

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Those of you who regularly complain/mock/kvetch about the BLS methodology for measuring CPI prices — and I am as guilty as anyone else — should check out the “Billion Prices Project @ MIT.”

The idea behind the Billion Prices Project is that we can track inflation by collecting prices from hundreds of online retailers around the world on a daily basis. Thus, the  BPP currently monitors the daily price fluctuations of ~5 million items sold by ~300 online retailers in more than 70 countries.

That’s a pretty cool way to track real time inflation.

At the WSJ, Justin Lahart quotes Rutgers University economist Michael Bordo, who has reviewed the methodology: “It seems to me it’s a brilliant way of measuring the deep fundamentals of inflation.”

There are some caveats: The economists’ indexes are “tracking prices paid by the wealthy, who shop more at stores with an online presence, rather than ordinary shoppers.” And, it cannot pick up items whose prices are subject to haggling — cars and electronics come to mind. Services like legal, accounting, education, health care don’t exactly post a price list in the cloud either.

Justin adds that so far, the MIT approach has tracked the official price data fairly well, but it might stray in the future.

Meantime, having a real time inflation measure is a nice addition to the tool box — especially if we can measure the impact of QE2 . . .

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Sources:
MIT Sloan professors publish real-time inflation rates around the world in “Billion Prices Project”
November 8, 2010
http://bpp.mit.edu/blog-2/

See also: Daily price indexesMethodologyResearchAbout us

A Way, Day by Day, of Gauging Prices
JUSTIN LAHART
WSJ, NOVEMBER 10, 2010
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704804504575606801972873866.html

Category: Data Analysis, Inflation, Retail

Retailers Need a Fresh Start

Retailers need a fresh start Andy Xie Caixin Online Aug. 30, 2010 > BEIJING: China’s gross domestic product surpassed Japan in the second quarter of 2010. The international media gave this milestone considerable attention. The domestic media hasn’t paid as much attention. As natural disasters, environmental degradation and property bubbles take the center of attention,…Read More

Category: Retail, Think Tank

“Pseudo-variety”: Soft Drink Industry Structure

Rather fascinating discussion of the beverage industry from Professor Philip H. Howard of Michigan State University. He concludes there is an oligolpoly, with 3 firms controlling nearly 90% of the beverage options. This lack of competition in this industry is obscured by the apparent variety of choices. Professor Howard calls it pseudovariety – variations on…Read More

Category: Consumer Spending, Retail

Tech Gadgets vs Durable Goods

Its the first Thursday of the month, so we will be getting monthly sales from many retail stores throughout today. Related to that, I am fascinated by this story in the WSJ. Durable Goods, Furniture, Apparel are out; In: Laptops, iPads, iPods; the staycation crowd are buying Blu-ray video players and big plasma screen televisions….Read More

Category: Consumer Spending, Retail, Technology

One Last Look at Mortgage Defaults Driving Retail Sales

Yet another case of anecdote trumping evidence: I am more than willing to entertain the possibility that squatters are a key component of this economic rebound, if only someone can show me some data that supports it. However, charts like the following, that calculate liabilities owed, are only half the equation: > 7+ Million Homeowners…Read More

Category: Credit, Real Estate, Retail

More on Mortgage Delinquencies & Retail Spending

The latest bad meme to develop legs is the idea that strategic mortgage defaults are goosing retail sales. We looked at this last week in Are Defaults Really Driving Retail Spending? as an idea driven mostly by anecdote (some quite ugly), but unsupported by any hard data.

To those pushing this idea, I ask this: Are these mortgage mod requests from egregiously irresponsible spendthrifts the exception, or the rule? And, if they are more than an exception, would you please produce actual data supporting this thesis?

After my post on this, I got dozens of emails with anecdotal stories of defaulting homeowners going on spending sprees. Many were so similar that I presumed they were email forwards from the same source. Also, Bill Gates wants to send me to Disneyland.

I started hunting for more info on this. I came across three items that are worth discussing. (if you know of any other data sources in this, feel free to mention in comments)

The first item was a quote from Mark Zandi in Monday’s WSJ:

How much can the world count on the U.S. consumer?

U.S. consumers remain the single largest source of global demand, even if their clout isn’t what it once was. J.P. Morgan estimates U.S. consumer spending will account for one-fourth of the global total in 2010, down from about 35% in 2003. Still, the global recession spread to Latin America and Asia when U.S. buyers put away their credit cards.

In recent months, U.S. consumer spending has turned upward and may continue that way for some time, says Economy.com economist Mark Zandi, who figures pent up demand will boost car and home sales. But the long-term outlook is hardly solid. Part of the reason for Mr. Zandi’s short-term bullishness is that he figures about five million households aren’t making payments on their mortgages, giving them as much as $60 billion to spend—for now. -WSJ

Zandi appears to have come up with his $60 billion figure (as far as I can tell) by taking 5 million delinquent home owners X a ballpark $1000 per month mortgage X 12 months = $60B.

Let’s take a closer look at Zandi’s analysis to see if it holds water.

- The March 2010 NFP report data had 15.0 million unemployed persons; the number of “long-term unemployed” rose to 6.5 million — 44.1% of total unemployed. An additional 9.1 million people working part time because full time work was unavailable.

Its reasonable to surmise that there is a huge overlap between the 24 million people either unemployed or under employed, and the 5 million foreclosures, and 6 million+ late mortgage payers. We can reasonably make a connection between a fall in income and foreclosures and defaults.

-Confusing cause and effect. Most people don’t default to get more money; they default because they have run out of money.

When your income plummets — in 15 million case above, by 100% — you stop spending except for necessities. The majority of hard working Americans who are unemployed (or under employed) and who are delinquent on their mortgages because they have run out of money. Merely failing to pay that liability, does not men you therefore have lots of extra cash burning a hole in your pocket.

- Therefore, Liabilities — what is owed by defaulting homeowners — are not the same as Disposable Income. Not paying that liability is not a windfall — its a sign of economic distress. That $60 billion is a collective measure of how much homeowners owe, not how much they have.

And this is coming from me, the guy who advocated that the economy needs more foreclosures . . .

The second item was from Minyanville’s James Kostohryz. He blamed the idea on Perma-Bears, stating they are “running out of excuses for why retail sales rose so strongly in March of 2010” (Are Mortgage Deadbeats Juicing Up the Economic Numbers?).

But James takes it a step further, crunching the numbers to determine, if true, how much this could be impacting spending. His conclusion? The most that strategic defaults are helping retail sales is about $228 million per month — “~0.026% of monthly Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) which are averaging about $863 billion per month.” Hardly enough to explain the significant uptick in retail sales.

Read More

Category: Analysts, Consumer Spending, Credit, Retail

Howard Davidowitz: Recovery? What Recovery?

The inimitable Howard Davidowitz on whether he has been completely wrong over the past year and whether America is in the midst of a glorious recovery:

Category: Retail, Video

Watching the Growth of Walmart + Sam’s Club

Terrific visualization from Nathan at Flowing Data, who updates his Wal-Mart growth vid with the addition of Sam’s Club. Suggestion: How about a version of Apple Store growth the past decade? via Flowing Data

Category: Digital Media, Retail

Hardcover Best Sellers Paperback Spillover Effect

Here’s something interesting: Many of the books on the NYT hardcover business best sellers list are causing a nice spillover effect on the paperback business best sellers list. Consider these hardcover books: 1. THE BIG SHORT, by Michael Lewis (2010) 4. OUTLIERS, by Malcolm Gladwell (2008) 9. SUPERFREAKONOMICS, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J….Read More

Category: Retail

Counter-Cyclical Spending (during recessions)

One of the things I hate about a secular bull market — especially towards its rampaging tail end — is how everyone and everything gets silly. Money and champagne flows, conspicuous consumption is on full display. I recall people — literally — dancing on bars during the late 90s in NYC. To be sure, Fed…Read More

Category: Consumer Spending, Cycles, Psychology, Retail