December Retail Sales: Up 0.4% MoM

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by: Doug Short

By Jill Mislinski

The Census Bureau's Advance Retail Sales Report for December released this morning showed an increase over the November figures. Headline sales came in at 0.4% month over month to one decimal. Today's headline number was at the Investing.com consensus of 0.4%. Core sales (ex Autos) came in at 0.4% MoM. October and November figures were revised.

Here is the introduction from today's report:

Advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for December 2017, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $495.4 billion, an increase of 0.4 percent (±0.5 percent)* from the previous month, and 5.4 percent (±0.7 percent) above December 2016. Total sales for the 12 months of 2017 were up 4.2 percent (±0.4 percent) from 2016. Total sales for the October 2017 through December 2017 period were up 5.5 percent (±0.5 percent) from the same period a year ago. The October 2017 to November 2017 percent change was revised from up 0.8 percent (±0.5 percent) to up 0.9 percent (±0.2 percent).

Retail trade sales were up 0.3 percent (±0.5 percent)* from November 2017, and were up 5.6 percent (±0.7 percent) from last year. Nonstore Retailers were up 12.7 percent (±1.4 percent) from December 2016, while Building Materials and Garden Equipment and Supplies Dealers were up 9.9 percent (±2.1 percent) from last year. [view full report]

The chart below is a log-scale snapshot of retail sales since the early 1990s. The two exponential regressions through the data help us to evaluate the long-term trend of this key economic indicator.

The year-over-year percent change provides another perspective on the historical trend. Here is the headline series.

Core Sales

Here is the year-over-year version of Core Retail Sales.

"Control" Purchases

The next two charts illustrate retail sales "Control" purchases, which is an even more "Core" view of retail sales. This series excludes Motor Vehicles & Parts, Gasoline, Building Materials as well as Food Services & Drinking Places. The popular financial press typically ignores this series, but it is a more consistent and reliable reading of the economy.

Here is the same series year over year. Note that the current level is above both highlighted values at the start of recessions since the inception of this series in the early 1990s.

For a better sense of the reduced volatility of the "Control" series, here is a YoY overlay with the headline retail sales.

Bottom Line: December sales showed an improvement over the previous month's figures and were at forecasts. Later today, we'll take a closer look at Real Retail Sales.