Retail Sales: Look Forward, Not Back

Good underlying Retail Sales numbers today. But watch gas prices at the pump as well as tough compares in April and May. We need continued underlying acceleration to sustain current yy growth.

Things looked good in the rear view for Retail Sales in Feb. Specifically, sales for Clothing/Accessory Stores & Department Stores (~9% of retail sales) – while flat vs. Jan levels (YoY) – accelerated slightly on a 2-year basis.

During the same time period, we saw a modest sequential slowdown in total retail sales excluding autos and fuel.  So in effect, we simply stepped up our purchases of apparel in Feb relative to other items.

Good stuff. But keep in mind that:

a) Gas is sitting at $3.22 on average in the US (regular unleaded). That is a factor now that was not in place in Jan/Feb. The current price for gas at the pump is ~10% higher than last year. If prices remain flat, then we could be looking at
an 8% increase in prices over the coming seasonal driving months. Should we see LSD-MSD growth from here, prices could reach $3.40 for regular gas representing 13-15% growth over last year. That equates to $9-12bn less consumers will have to spend on cargo shorts during peak driving season (or $40-50bn of total retail sales annually).

b) The spread between chain store sales and Retail Sales (gov’t-reported) ticked up last month – meaning that the public clothing companies outperformed. But check out the spread in the two in the chart below. There is a nearly surmountable spread that the public companies need to comp in April and May. This will be tough with gas sitting where it is.

c) While sales this morning reaffrim the top line strength we’ve been seeing, keep in mind that the retailers who report SSS now only account for ~$260bn/year with JCP and DDS recently hanging up the cleats. Total retail sales are roughly $3.5 trillion (ex auto) with annual PCE near $11 trillion (72% of the economy) meaning that only ~30% of consumer expenditures take place in retail stores or online.

Retail Sales: Look Forward, Not Back - retail SSS Spread

 

Retail Sales: Look Forward, Not Back - retail sales clothing Dept

 

Retail Sales: Look Forward, Not Back - total RS ex fuel