Dec. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Sales at U.S. retailers rose more than forecast in November, a sign consumer spending is gathering speed heading into 2010.
Gallup says otherwise, actual POS data says otherwise, at least with regard to Black Friday.
So what's going on here?
Well, we could start with this, that Bloomberg, by the way, didn't report...
Special Notice - The advance estimates in this report are the first estimates from a new sample. The new sample for the Advance Monthly Retail Trade Survey is selected about once every two and a half years.
Oh, so the sampling has changed? Uh, doesn't that make for a somewhat-difficult argument that we're measuring apples to apples?
The U.S. Census Bureau announced today that advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for November, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes,
What's more expensive this year than last (since y/o/y is the more accurate measurement in general, as it nulls errors in seasonal adjustments):
Gasoline: 33,303 .vs. 31,411. Big change - that's roughly six percent in one month! Annualized it is a roughly 10% change - gas was more expensive, basically, and most gasoline demand is inelastic (gotta get to work!)
There are some other problems evident in the data. Non-store retailers were up significantly, but there is no current-month data for online broken out, and somehow there's a bunch "missing" for the last month where the monthly breakout IS present.
On its face it looks like a good report. However, the sampling change along with some of the missing internal sub-sets for the current month make it nearly impossible for me to evaluate whether we're seeing broad-based strength on an actual basis or whether gasoline and sampling revisions are responsible for most of it.
I'm deeply skeptical of these numbers, mostly because the other data available that I've cited in recent days - the Gallup Survey, the actual POS data stream analysis, and ShopperTrack's latest - all say that Black Friday was down modestly (or worse.)
Was the front of the month that much better on "hope and change" only to get blown to bits over the Thanksgiving Holiday? I don't buy it and thus far the preponderance of the evidence does not point toward a broad-based consumption recovery.