Retail Sales in December: Good or Less Bad?

| About: Consumer Discretionary (XLY)

The U.S. Census Bureau announced today advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for December. The headline numbers quoted in the media are seasonally adjusted numbers.

It seems to me that if you compare numbers year-on-year you don't need to use adjusted data; you can use raw data. Over a year seasonal adjustments should cancel out. John Lounsbury commented recently about the strange (my words) fact that adjusted and unadjusted annual data don't give the same results.

As far as the raw data goes, some good news for a change - or perhaps less bad, would be a better description. Year-on-year retail sales were up over 5%; however, it must be remembered that December 2008 was a disaster. When compared to December 2007, retail sales were down almost 4%.

The reason I consider this good, or less bad, is that as I showed in a previous article, sales were down 8.5% from November 2007 to 2009. So consumers rallied over Christmas more than they have in earlier months.

The question is whether this is a sign of a recovery in spending or simply that consumers are less willing to go without their Christmas retail splurge. January and February 2010 numbers will answer that question.

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