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--Barry Asmus

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Retail Sales

Retail Sales!  This is the report in which the US Census Bureau tells us about the changes in total receipts at stores that sell durable and nondurable goods - that is, goods you can touch, pick up, smell, eat, and so forth.  As opposed to intangible goods, which are actually services.  The Street likes this report because they like sales.  They like corporate revenues, they like seeing the economy working, and they like profits.
April was slightly disappointing, though.  Overall retail sales increased 0.5% (missing expectations), but ex-auto retail sales were up 0.6% (meeting expectations).  Gas stations had the best month, with a 2.7% increase in sales (helped by rising gasoline costs, since this is total receipts we're looking at), while sporting goods, hobby, book & music store sales had the worst month (with sales falling 1.9%).
So that was past.  In the present, the Econoday-surveyed analysts are expecting a soul-crushingly bad month[1], looking for overall sales to fall 0.3%, but for ex-auto retail sales to climb 0.3%.  So, obviously, they're expecting car sales to outright tank.  But are they right?  Let's turn to the Census Bureau's Advance Monthly Sales For Retail and Food Services May 2011 report and find out.
Actually, they're wrong.  But in a good way.  May brings us a 0.2% decline in overall retail sales, and a 0.3% increase in ex-auto retail sales.  So we beat expectations on the one and met expectations on the other.  Miscellaneous store retailers[2] had the best of the month, with a 2.1% increase in sales, while motor vehicle and parts dealers had the worst of the month (with a 2.9% decline in sales).
[1]  A little hyperbole is good for the soul, don't you think?
[2]  They really don't define "miscellaneous store retailers".  I'm assuming this covers any type of store that either isn't covered in the existing categories, or one that straddles the boundaries so well that you can't really say it belongs to one over the other.  Like a three-star restaurant that is also a lumber yard.

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