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Friday, January 15, 2016 9:42 AM

December Retail Sales Negative; Other Economic Data Horrid

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Despite glowing reports of last minute Christmas sales, none of which I believed, December retail sales are best described as awful.

Apparel was a standout, down 0.9%. The surprise here is that nobody blamed the weather.

The Econoday Consensus Estimate was flat, and the result was not that far off at -0.1%, but the details were awful.

Retail sales proved disappointing in December, down 0.1 percent in a headline that is not skewed by vehicles or even that much by gasoline. Ex-auto sales also fell 0.1 percent while the core ex-auto ex-gas reading came in unchanged which is well below both expectations as well as low-end expectations. The Beige Book yesterday warned us about weak apparel sales which in this report fell a very steep 0.9 percent, in a decline that likely reflects more than just import-price contraction. The general merchandise category, which is very large, fell 1.0 percent in the month. Electronics & appliances also show contraction.

December winds up what was a not-so-great year for the nation's retailers. Total sales rose only 2.1 percent in the year, the smallest gain since 2009 and well down from 3.9 percent in 2014. Excluding motor vehicles, sales rose 0.9 percent, far lower than 2014's 3.1 percent.

There are, however, some positives in the report including another strong gain for restaurants, up 0.8 percent, and also another gain for furniture & home furnishings, up 0.9 percent in strength that confirms ongoing improvement in the housing sector. But sales at non-store retailers rose only 0.3 percent for a second straight month which are moderate gains that do not confirm anecdotal reports of unusual holiday strength for online shopping.

Upward revisions do take some of the sting out of the December report but not much. November total sales are revised 2 tenths higher to plus 0.4 percent and reflects a sharp upward revision to vehicle sales to plus 0.5 percent. But vehicle sales couldn't muster any strength in December, coming in unchanged. And sales at gasoline stations extended their long run of contraction that reflects falling oil prices, down 1.1 percent in December.

There's plenty of jobs for consumers and gas prices are low -- but so are wages. The consumer started to slow down at year end and that was before the new trouble in China. Today's data will pull down expectations for fourth-quarter growth.
There was a slew of economic reports today. This was arguably the best one! Empire State Manufacturing was shockingly bad as was industrial production. Details coming up.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

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