Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Retail Sales Decline in March

by Calculated Risk on 4/14/2009 08:30:00 AM

On a monthly basis, retail sales decreased 1.1% from February to March (seasonally adjusted), but sales are off 10.7% from March 2008 (retail and food services decreased 9.4%). Automobile and parts sales declined 2.3% in March (compared to February), but excluding autos, all other sales declined -0.9%.

The following graph shows the year-over-year change in nominal and real retail sales since 1993.

Year-over-year change in Retail Sales Click on graph for larger image in new window.

To calculate the real change, the monthly PCE price index from the BEA was used (March PCE prices were estimated as the same increase from January to February).

Although the Census Bureau reported that nominal retail sales decreased 10.7% year-over-year (retail and food services decreased 9.4%), real retail sales declined by 11.6% (on a YoY basis).

Real Retail Sales The second graph shows real retail sales (adjusted with PCE) since 1992. This is monthly retail sales, seasonally adjusted.

NOTE: The graph doesn't start at zero to better show the change.

This shows that retail sales fell off a cliff in late 2008, but have been somewhat stable the last four months.

Here is the Census Bureau report:

The U.S. Census Bureau announced today that advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for March, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $344.4 billion, a decrease of 1.1 percent (±0.5%) from the previous month and 9.4 percent (±0.7%) below March 2008. Total sales for the January through March 2009 period were down 8.8 percent (±0.5%) from the same period a year ago. The January 2009 to February 2009 percent change was revised from -0.1 percent (±0.5%)* to +0.3 percent (±0.3%).

Gasoline stations sales were down 34.0 percent (±1.5%) from March 2008 and motor vehicle and parts dealers sales were down 23.5 percent (±2.3%) from last year.
Seasonally adjusted Q1 retail sales are still about 1.5% below sales in Q4, but have been at about the same level since December.

Although Q1 GDP will be very weak - because investment fell off a cliff and there was apparently a significant inventory correction - Q1 PCE will probably be close to neutral.