December Retail Not So Hot

We previously addressed the holiday retail season (here and here). This week, the Commerce Department released their data, which included food, and gasoline and automobiles also. By pretty much any measure, both holiday sales and total retail sales were below consensus.

Note that these numbers were only disappointing by Wall Street’s bloated expectations; My forecast for holiday sales was 3-4% — on the low end of Wall Street (but Bullish for me!)

That turned out to be precisely correct, with sales coming in ~3.5%.

The strongest year over year gainers in retail sales were:

-Gasoline stations
-Food services & drinking places
-Nonstore retailers (internet/mail order)
-Building material & garden eq. & supplies dealers

Not a very impressive list: Inflation, internet, home boom, and food. 

I’m curious as to how much personal bias gets built into these scenarios. Are strategists and economists swayed by their own salaries and bonuses, their holiday shopping and own gift giving ? Its a curious question, one that is deserving of academic study.

Here’s the WSJ’s take on the recent commerce department data:

"Retailers’ December sales showed solid growth from a year ago but appeared to be slowing from prior months, stirring uncertainty about the outlook for consumer spending — a vital force in the economic expansion — in 2006.

In the government’s most comprehensive assessment yet of December consumer spending, the Commerce Department on Friday said sales of $358 billion represented a 6.4% increase from a year earlier — less than the 8.7% growth seen in December 2004.

But December’s sales were up just 0.7% from November on a seasonally adjusted basis, and much of the gain came from a bounce in auto showrooms, where sales had dropped sharply between July and October, and from a jump in sales at gasoline-service stations. Excluding those categories, retail sales inched up just 0.1%.

Sales also appeared to decline in several important categories from November, including general merchandisers, department stores, electronics stores and building-supply stores. The estimates were preliminary and will be updated by the government in February.

Meanwhile, the National Retail Federation, a trade group, said holiday sales started out well in November, thanks in part to heavy promotions at the beginning of the shopping season. But sales ended up flat in December after a lull in the early part of the month. Its figures, which exclude car sales and sales at gas stations and restaurants, show December sales rising 5.7% from a year earlier."

December Retail Sales Grow at Slowing Pace,Clouding Outlook   
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, January 14, 2006; Page A1

December 2005
FRIDAY, JANUARY 13, 2006, AT 8:30 A.M. EST

PDF:  Monthly_sales_for_retail_and_food_services.pdf

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