The US Census says advance numbers for retail sales are up 0.6% in December 2010 (pdf). Econintersect’s analysis says this is a severe understatement – the unadjusted data shows sales up over 8% YoY and at all time highs for this data series. The headlines:
The U.S. Census Bureau announced today that advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for December, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $380.9 billion, an increase of 0.6 percent (±0.5%) from the previous month, and 7.9 percent (±0.7%) above December 2009. Total sales for the 12 months of 2010 were up 6.6 percent (±0.4%) from 2009. Total sales for the October through December 2010 period were up 7.8 percent (±0.5%) from the same period a year ago. The October to November 2010 percent change was unrevised from +0.8 percent (±0.2%).
Retail trade sales were up 0.7 percent (±0.5%) from November 2010, and 8.2 percent (±0.7%) above last year. Nonstore retailers sales were up 15.0 percent (±3.1%) from December 2009 and auto and other motor vehicle dealers sales were up 14.7 percent (±2.3%) from last year.
(Click charts to expand)
Econintersect believes only the unadjusted data – which is not corrupted by the Great Recession data, can be used to evaluate retail sales. The unadjusted data graph says retail sales are the highest in history.
One month is not a trend. But retail sales have been trying to break out of the recession doldrums since September. December’s data was an explosion to the upside. Has the consumer returned? Or, as always being a devil’s advocate, have retail goods merely “sold ahead” in the holiday season, only to be followed by a consumer retrenchment in the first quarter of the new year?
This data is in conflict with Econintersect’s flat December economic forecast, ECRI’s negative WLI index for this period, and the Consumer Metrics Institute declining consumer index.
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Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.