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 $353.0 billion, a decrease of 0.3 percent (0.5%)* from the previous month, but 5.4 percent (0.5%) above December 2008. Total sales for the 12 months of 2009 were down 6.2 percent (0.2%) from 2008. Total sales for the October through December 2009 period were up 1.9 percent (0.3%) from the same period a year ago.
Now remember, Census has some funny methodology in that they don't count sales unless both the prior and current month is returned by the same store. This means they overstate sales during declines in the economy, and understate them during expansions.
Looking inside the report we see a number of surprises in the year-over-year numbers.
Electronics were down - so much for the so-called "strong Christmas sales" in that category that everyone on ToutTV has been crowing about.
Food and beverage purchases were up - price inflation?
Gasoline was up huge, accounting for a huge percentage of the year/over/year increase all on its own. Gee, that happens when the gas price goes up a lot, right?
Indeed, while there were positive changes in other categories (online was up 10%, as just one example) gasoline sales increased in dollar volume by thirty-four percent and accounted for a stunning $8.7 billion of the total $17.9 billion increase - roughly half.
What's there to like in here? I say "little or nothing" - gas sale increases are not positive, they're negative as most gasoline demand is inelastic (you need it to get to work) as is food.
The bright lights, such as they were, had clothing up 5% and general merchandise up 2%, both annualized.
Rather uninspiring when one considers that the inelastic components were the big movers on the positive side and that's not good for discretionary spending capacity.
Where We Are, Where We're Heading (2013) - The annual 2013 Ticker
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