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April Retail Sales Rebound

May 13, 2016

by Doug Short

The Census Bureau's Advance Retail Sales Report released this morning shows that the seasonally adjusted sales series rebounded in April from its recent weakness. Headline sales came in at 1.3% month-over-month, which was above the 0.8% increase forecast by Investing.com. It is the strongest MoM since the 1.6% gain in March of last year. Headline sales are up 3.0% year-over-year. Core Retail Sales (ex Autos) were also strong at 0.8% MoM, also above the Investing.com forecast of a 0.5% increase. The previous MoM was revised upward for both series: -0.4% to -03% for Headline sales and 0.2% to 0.4% for Core.

Here is the introduction from today's report:

The U.S. Census Bureau announced today that advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for April, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $453.4 billion, an increase of 1.3 percent (±0.5%) from the previous month, and 3.0 percent (±0.7%) above April 2015. Total sales for the February 2016 through April 2016 period were up 2.8 percent (±0.5%) from the same period a year ago. The February 2016 to March 2016 percent change was revised from down 0.4 percent (±0.5%)* to down 0.3 percent (±0.2%).

Retail trade sales were up 1.4 percent (±0.5%) from March 2016, and up 2.7 percent (±0.5%) from last year. Nonstore retailers were up 10.2 percent (±1.2%) from April 2015, while gasoline stations were down 9.4 percent (±1.6%) 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.

Retail Sales Trends

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

Retail Sales YoY

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

Core Retail Sales YoY


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 a more consistent and reliable reading of the economy.

Control Sales Trends

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

Control Sales YoY

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

Headline and Control YoY

Bottom Line: The April sales were a welcome improvement from the the ongoing weakness of this indicator over the past several months.