Retail Sales, Inflation Add Fuel to Fed’s Rate-Hike Trajectory, Treasuries Dive as Yields Surge

But something funny happened on the way to the headlines.

In describing the retail-sales data released today, words like “slumps” and “declines” kept cropping up in the headlines. This referred to the seasonally adjusted month-over-month data, so the percentage change from December retail sales (peak holiday selling season) to January retail sales (peak merchandise-return season). This comparison is only possible with gigantic seasonal adjustments that try to smooth away the holiday selling peak and the post-holiday hangover in a way that, hopefully, the index ticks up a bit from December to January.

In today’s reading, this change in seasonally adjusted total retail sales – includes food services and drinking places such as restaurants and bars – ticked down 0.3% from December to January, triggering the “slumps” and “declines” in the headlines. But this figure is only as good as the seasonal adjustments. Here is what the month-over-month percentage change of total retail sales looks like not seasonally adjusted:

Not seasonally adjusted, total retail sales plunged 21% from December to January, but they plunged between 19% and 23% in prior Januaries. Hence the gigantic seasonal adjustments needed to smoothen out this wildly gyrating seasonal data.

But on a not-seasonally-adjusted basis, the year-over-year growth in total retail sales was a healthy 5.1% in January, compared to January 2017, in the same range of the year-over-year changes in prior months and at the higher end of the spectrum since 2012:

There was only tepid growth in the bar-and-restaurant business, with sales of food services up only 1.8% year-over-year. Excluding food services, retail sales jumped 5.6% year-over-year not seasonally adjusted:

So retail sales in January were solid, despite the “slumps” and “declines” in the headlines. Once we get the Q4 ecommerce data, we will likely see that much of the growth came from e-commerce, which is estimated to have surged 18% over the holidays.

None of this data is adjusted for inflation. Today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its Consumer Price Index. For once, all eyes were riveted on it. If it surprised to the upside, it would add fuel to the rate-hike trajectory of the Fed and the bond market’s reaction to it. If it came in below expectations, it could cool some of this fever.

The Wall Street Journal consensus forecast was for a gain in CPI of 2.0% year-over-year. This morning before the release, the WSJ said: “The report is likely to face special scrutiny this month after fears about accelerating inflation sparked a global rout in stocks this month.”

Then the report was released: CPI rose 2.1% year-over-year, slightly above expectation. Core CPI (without food and energy) rose 1.8% year-over-year, the fastest pace since April 2017. So inflation as measured by CPI isn’t exactly soaring, but it is not backing off either:

This wasn’t an inflation “shock” or whatever, but it was above expectations. It was enough to convince the Treasury market that the Fed will take inflation seriously, that it will continue on its path to push for higher interest rates in an attempt to tighten the very loose financial conditions.

On the news, 10-year Treasuries sold off and the 10-year yield jumped 9 basis points to 2.91% by early afternoon. If it closes at this rate, it would be the highest since January 2014. 30-year Treasuries sold off too, with the 30-year yield jumping 7 basis points to 3.17%.

Hedge funds and speculators that have shorted Treasuries with longer maturities have been on a winning trade. But because it is such a logical trade, it’s a very crowded trade that is now going begging for a contrarian reaction. Read…  Record Short Bets against 10-Year Treasury Promise Turmoil

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  55 comments for “Retail Sales, Inflation Add Fuel to Fed’s Rate-Hike Trajectory, Treasuries Dive as Yields Surge

  1. cdr says:

    Months and years ago, long term rates would rise abruptly then slowly ratchet lower for an extended period. Then they would rise abruptly before slowly ratcheting lower once again.

    They never rose too high or fell too low unless a narrative of the day supported it. Everything was predictable. Nothing was shocking, outside of an occasional headline or so, which was probably planted by the PR department of the Fed.

    Today, the ‘technical barriers’ are much different on the high end of long term rates. “Reducing the balance sheet” MIGHT be a euphemism for not managing long term rates lower and keeping them within a range any longer.

    If so, this is the crack in the dam.

    It’s too soon to say this is actual plan and more is in store. Daylight is visible, but the path is not yet proven to be open to the public. If so, sorry about the crack in the dam for everyone else outside of the US. It’s going to get much bigger over time. The US will only have some screaming, crying paper flippers to deal with. Everyone else will deal with the flood. Given the overall downside, much pressure is probably on the FOMC to reconsider.

    • Joan of Arc says:

      On the higher inflation news the dollar tanked today. The SP500 was down 20 in the morning but closed up 35 for the day. Sorry, I don’t know what to make of this hullabaloo.

      • cdr says:

        Me neither.

        Is it a normal reaction to a market transitioning from highly manipulated and strongly supported one to a more normalized one?


        Is the fix still in just like it has been for several years, is the PPT or whoever still providing support, are the ‘financial markets’ still just a charade calculated to look real but are now just re-positioning, is this Fed stalling for time until it can resume course for negative rates and monetized sovereign debt in a couple of years?

        I hope for the former but suspect the latter is still on the table.

    • John says:


  2. Lee Blockchain says:

    We will eventually find out what price all will pay for the Central Bankers stupidity to appease the Deflation Monster. Letting bad debt/decisions die, used to be a good thing, but apparently not anymore.

    • mean chicken says:

      Central banks aren’t stupid, not sure why you say that. They’re well paid for, their hard work

      Notice who gets richer and who pays the price, are you blind?

  3. OutLookingIn says:

    US sovereign bonds (aka) Treasuries, trade based on inflation expectations.
    When inflation is higher, so are Treasury bond (rate) yields.
    When bond (rates) yields rise, bond prices fall.
    When bond prices fall, the bond bubble blows.
    When the bond bubble blows, the everything bubble blows.

    Global pensions have bet heavily on the residential mortgage markets (REITS) in their search for yield, caused by ultra low rates. This has now changed.
    Mortgage applications are now cliff diving. The pool of qualified buyers is very quickly drying up. Real estate asset prices will soon follow suit, in an attempt to attract this residual, shrinking pool of buyers.
    Central banks continue to focus on consumption inflation, not asset inflation. The US asset inflation is now +35% above the 2007 peak! The economy is dependent on credit and the bigger the accumulated debt is, when compared to GDP, the more likely it is that a severe reduction in credit will cause an economic crisis with an attendant valuation reset.

  4. Petunia says:

    Since Xmas I see tight inventories and little discounting at the higher retail end. The mid tier is struggling to unload last year’s mistakes. And quality is down everywhere.

    A snooty consignment shop in town, designer labels only, is now reselling JCPenny jewelry. I think there’s a message there somewhere.

    • Frederick says:

      The only consignment shop I’ve ever been to is run by the Salvation Army lol An old girlfriend of mine runs a pretty high end one in Lantana Fla I’m told

    • Nick Kelly says:

      I’ve been noting Gillette’s ads since watching Ali (then Clay) knock out Liston. Never heard them mention price before the last three months or so. Now it’s ‘our modern factories bringing you lower prices’

      I think this is a real bellwether. Most guys will economize on grooming if the result is ok but Gillette was an exception until they pushed it tor far.

      Relative male costs re: appearance; A TV anchor on a major Aussie network wore the same suit for a year and no one noticed until he announced it.

      • Night-Train says:

        I am a twice a day shaver, as I have been since I started shaving at 15, many,many years ago. During that time I have tried all manner of blades, soaps, creams, pre-shaves, post-shaves, you name it, I tried it.

        Since I now wear a full beard, I only have to neck shave. But, I have to say I do like the new Gillette multi-blade razors. Another part of my shaving routine is, after a good face washing, I put on a thin layer of an old and popular cosmetic cream which makes for a smooth close shave. Using this method and the Gillette blades, I have found that the cheapest shave cream works as well as the most expensive.

        Finding he best shave possible has long been my quest.

        • p coyle says:

          as someone who likes a clean close shave, might you share the brand of the “old and popular cosmetic cream?”

        • MD says:

          That’s easy – generic disposables.

          Not engineered to go blunt quickly like the ‘big boys’.

          Only gullible fools pay large corporations 9or even ‘shaving’s other guys’) enormous amounts of money to scrape their face – simply because a film or sports star tells them to on the television…

          Of course feel free to keep chucking money down the drain paying about a 1000% more than you need to – your money/credit.

        • fajensen says:

          I got fed up with the costs of disposables, so now I use a simple ‘safety razor’ with the classic 2-sided razor blades and the shaving foam made up from a soap block using a shaving brush.

          This is 1/10’th of the costs of the disposables and a much nicer shave – the canned shaving foams will dry and irritate the skin, the soap block kind will not.

        • Petunia says:

          P Coyle,

          The trick to using good cheap shaving cream is to buy the brand marketed to women. Yes, the stuff in the pink pretty cans. Women would never use a product without sufficient moisturizer to smooth the skin, which the women’s shaving creams have. The guys get the shift because they don’t know any better. Having said this, in my house we buy the expensive shaving creams because they last longer, you can use less per shave, because they have more moisturizer.

        • Winston says:

          I use mid-range (waterproof) Norelco cordless electric razors. When the shaving head wears out, I buy the latest discontinued model on sale for only a bit more that the price of the replacement head for my current model. I’ve been doing that for years, going from nicad powered models to lithium ion powered ones. I’m frugal although I don’t have to be and don’t like being played… “Now with SIX blades!”

        • alex in san jose AKA digital Detroit says:

          p coyle – I’m willing to bet it’s Pond’s cold cream

          that stuff’s been around forever and has all sorts of uses, some trombone players even use it on their trombone slides.

        • Night-Train says:

          P Coyle: I hope I am not violating a site policy and I am certainly not in the employ or being compensated in any other way, but I use Noxzema classic cleansing cream. You will have to experiment a little to see what amount is right for your beard. It doesn’t take much. You just need a thin film and just rubbed on, not in. Then apply whatever shaving cream, foam, gel, brush and mug; I use them all depending on my mood. I also find that it is good to change up periodically for a few days. For example, I usually use a shave cream, but this afternoon I went with brush and mug, which I will use a couple of days, then return to the shave cream(foam).

          I hope you find this useful.

      • California Bob says:

        I suspect Gillette has experienced an impact from ‘bargain’ brands like Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s.

        • Night-Train says:

          I haven’t tried any of their stock, but I am open to it.

        • Off The Street says:

          Dorco also makes multi-blade razors that provide a good shave, for a fraction of the cost of Gillette.

    • Cirze says:

      By George, I think you’ve got it!

  5. Drango says:

    The market could use an inflation expectations index that allows investors to profit from all the times the Fed says inflation is a-comin. It wouldn’t be based on actual inflation, because there is no actual inflation. But as a derivative of what the Fed expects inflation will someday be between now and the end of the universe, it can be yet another way for traders to make money from something that doesn’t really exist.

    • ZeroBrain says:

      “there is no actual inflation” … umm, what? Inflation has been here for a while. Do you not notice containers at the supermarket getting smaller? Asset prices going up? Quality going down? Of course you do.

      They falsely claim inflation is low so that they can maintain appearances about why they’re printing more, promising that eventually they’ll increase rates. They do this because the world would abandon the dollar if they expected the Fed to keep printing. So they just keep lying about it and everyone gets suckered for another day, week, year etc.

      • Smingles says:

        “Do you not notice containers at the supermarket getting smaller?”

        CPI takes this into account.

        “Quality going down?”

        It also takes this into account.

        There is inflation, of course. But inflation is a very vague term, and doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing to two different people– and even if it does, it doesn’t necessarily affect them the same way. Try comparing inflation in San Francisco to inflation in Butte, Montana.

        CPI, which is specific, and consistent (somewhat), remains lackluster, that much is true. I don’t believe there is any malevolent plot or conspiracy to keep CPI low. What, a global cabal of hundreds or thousands of statisticians, accountants, etc. are conspiring to falsify the numbers they collect to benefit their banker overlords?

        Seems about as likely as a global conspiracy of meteorologists, geologists, astronomers, chemists, physicists, et al. to falsify the numbers and prove there is global warming, all in the name of… I don’t know, grant money, or some such nonsense.

        • Gandalf says:

          Read up about it. It’s quite a story

          The CPI calculation methodology has been cooked several times dating back to the Reagan era, which ALL had the effect of reducing the final CPI number. This fudging now include “Hedonic Quality Adjustments”, which are 100% subjective and more or less allow these faceless bureaucrats to produce almost whatever number they want.

          If you realy believe the CPI is an accurate and true measurement of inflation, then I would like you to give me $100,000 to help out some poor starving widows in Nigeria ….

        • ZeroBrain says:

          Look into the methodology. I don’t care about your thoughts on whether it’s a conspiracy theory. Yes, I think it is on purpose, but I’m not here to argue about that since I can’t prove intent. What I *can prove* is that their methods are systematically flawed and underestimate inflation:

          It now takes two incomes to raise a family in most cases. This, despite wages keeping up with inflation *as measured*. That proves that prices have gone up more than reported in CPI (unless you think wage increases, which are simpler to measure, have been over reported). It’s a simple argument that you must refute.

          Your hand-waving about “lots of statisticians and you’re a phony” is not relevant. You can appeal to authority if you want, I’ll appeal to logic.

        • Smingles says:


          “If you realy believe the CPI is an accurate and true measurement of inflation, then I would like you to give me $100,000 to help out some poor starving widows in Nigeria ….”

          Where did I say that? I specifically said inflation is a very vague term, so no, I would not say CPI is an “accurate and true” measurement of inflation, because inflation means different things to different people, and there is not and never will be one true measurement of inflation.

          I would say CPI is probably the “least bad” measure of inflation, in that it has a relatively well defined methodology and is consistent. But no matter how you slice it, CPI will never measure “inflation” in a way that accurately represents all manner of inflation to everyone.


          “”It now takes two incomes to raise a family in most cases. This, despite wages keeping up with inflation *as measured*. That proves that prices have gone up more than reported in CPI (unless you think wage increases, which are simpler to measure, have been over reported). It’s a simple argument that you must refute.””

          It’s only a simple argument because you are intentionally making it overly simplistic. There has been a MASSIVE lifestyle and cultural change in the US in the last 30 years. Everything is way, way more consumption focused than it ever was in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and even 80s. CPI will never capture the fact that our culture now deems it necessary for young children to carry phones that cost $800 a pop. This literally didn’t exist until the last 10 years. It absolutely DOES NOT require two incomes to raise a family, period.

          “Your hand-waving about “lots of statisticians and you’re a phony” is not relevant. You can appeal to authority if you want, I’ll appeal to logic.”

          And you can appeal to fallacious oversimplification, it doesn’t change the fact that the statistics are out there to be disproved, and vague assertions notwithstanding, they haven’t been.

 –rebuts most of the arguments quite forcefully, though I know you will dismiss it without due consideration.

    • James Levy says:

      As the cook and shopper in the family, I would have to contest that there is no inflation. We’ve also had gasoline prices rise here in the hills of Western Massachusetts. Since I do not buy consumer electronics, and my wife and I use flip phones we bought at Walmart, I get no gains there, which seem to be the place people who want to argue “there is no inflation” go when they try to prove their point. All I know is that I have a weekly food budget, and it doesn’t go as far as it did a year and two years ago.

  6. John says:

    It seems that inflation and interest rates are not the boogie man that we believed if we look at stocks today.

    I guess we’re going to need to see some real casualties in various sectors due to debt strangulation before the fireworks come.

  7. Mike Ra says:

    I believe a good portion of retail “sales increases” are likely inflation; NOT increase in volume. Could actuallly be a slight decrease in volume.

    This country is facing a huge stagflation crisis for the majority of people that work in “unprotected” industry. If you’re in medical, college, power utilites, government and government support industries, you’re doing just fine. Everybody else is struggling because their products and services are not “have to haves”.

    The stagflation will affect the protected industries, it will just take longer.
    For example: How much less electricity could you use if you really had to?

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Online is totally booming. Online retail already has over 20% of the part of retail that is under attack.

      The math works like this: Total brick-and-mortar retail is about 90% of total retail (total minus ecommerce). Of those 90%, gasoline sales, auto sales, restaurant and bar sales, and grocery sales are for now online “proof.” The remaining 50% is under attack. And online already got over 20% of it.

      • Night-Train says:

        I was a very active online shopper during the 4Q. The point is that I was reluctant to shop online and thus, a late adopter. After a quiet January, I made 3 sizeable online purchases in the past week. And since I have three hobbies I enjoy, I foresee numerous online orders in my future, as I usually have to trade with online merchants in more populas areas.

        • Bobby says:

          Hopefully you don’t put your local hobby store out of business. Happy railroader here too

        • Night-Train says:

          Bobby: Would that we had a decent hobby shop, camera store, and I could go on. :)

      • Mike Ra says:

        Understand Wolf. But the fact that online is rising doesn’t mean TOTAL sales have increased. To me, it’s a zero sum game. On-line goes up, local retail drops.

        While I can’t prove it with stats, my sense is that total sales may not be due to increased volume as much as increased prices.

        I have only to look at my local Home Depot and Lowes. A 4 x8 sheet of 7/16th OSB (ubiquitous sheathing material) is around $13. Not long back (pre Irma) it was $7. They still sell a fair amount of OSB but I would hazard a guess that the overall volume is declining at that price. I know it has for me.

        • I understand that the Chinese are making their usual grab for commodities and lumber is hard to find. And the things they use it for have appreciated quite a bit too.

  8. LouisDeLaSmart says:

    I looked at the previous article, the chart “Credit card debt and other revolving credit ” and I think I see a correlation between the non-adjusted spending chart and the retail purchase chart (the sales slump when the debt increased). But at late 2016 the pattern brakes off and goes crazy…I wonder are people that desperate to service their loans through credit cards, or was this caused by using credit cards to gamble on cryptocurrency. Hmmm…

    • p coyle says:

      practically everywhere i have shopped in the past, say, two years has asked if i want to use my “such and such store” card. i say no, and they ask would you like to apply for one and save x%?

      long story short, i say no thank you and pay my usual way. but i bet that i may be in the minority when it comes to the average consumer on this issue.

      and btw, i am way more worried about the HELOC monies that went into crypto than the credit card cash advances!

    • Petunia says:

      Part of the rise in credit card use is due to subscriptions like Netflix and other monthly subscriptions. People used to pay for cable from a checking account, now they use the credit card to pay more of the monthly bills.

  9. Colin says:

    If the savings rate was close to normal(rather than down) and the debt was close to normal(rather than up) what would year over year retail spending look like? I have a feeling much lower than 5.1%. Healthy? Not really.

  10. John says:

    Wolf, what effect has the hurricanes and wildfires had on retail sales, since there was a big spike after the natural disasters? December was revised downward and January weak. My guess is a good chunk of that 5.1% YoY increase is attributable to those events.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      The January YOY figures should not be impacted by the Hurricanes because the impacted months were Aug, Sep, Oct, and Nov.

      For example, in Sep, Oct, and Nov we saw a spike in auto sales in those regions. This sales increase died in December with demand satisfied. There was no carry-over into January either. Auto sales are about 21% of total retail, the largest category.

  11. DK says:

    If the ten year breaks above 3% this week…..will 30 year fixed, conforming mortgages get to 5%? It seems like no one is denying inflation now. Fed may even get more aggressive.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Goldman CEO Blankfein reminisced today on TV how the Fed used to raise rates in between meetings via phone conferences, and how it raised rates by 50 basis points and 75 basis points and even by 100 basis points per meeting, when push came to shove. I doubt this will happen this time, but the fact the Blankfein brought it up tells me that people in high places are suddenly thinking about it again. This used to be unthinkable.

      • Nick Kelly says:

        It might be merciful to some of the doubters who seem to think of the Fed as their fairy godmother to raise 50 in one shot. Then maybe the frogs can jump out of the heating water instead of being lulled by its slow rise.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          If you heard Goldman CEO Blankfein talk the other day: he reminisced about in-between-meetings rate hikes of 50 basis points and 75 basis points. People are starting to grapple again with all kinds of previously unthinkable scenarios.

  12. WES says:

    Online sellers may currently be experiencing rising shipping costs which might slow down their onslaught on brick and mortar retailers. Noticed that Amazon is starting up their own shipping and delivery service. Have to wonder if Amazon is planning to “Uber” the shipping and delivery service industry to lower their costs?

    • Night-Train says:

      Several merchants I regularly trade with still have free shipping or some merchandise purchased based free shipping. I was looking at something the other day and checked out the expedited shipping and it almost knocked my socks off. Good thing I am a patient man.

    • cdr says:

      Samsclub just started free shipping for premium members. Good prices for lots of items. I placed an order. It saved me a trip. Amazon is another vendor of mine. Competition will keep the shipping prices low for longer.

  13. Nicko2 says:

    Trump’s mission to kill the Dollar is going as planned. Will he sink USS America before indictments go down? Stay tuned!

  14. Frequent Flyer says:

    Not to be a party pooper but total retail sales, CPI, wage inflation data all look pretty tame to me. Now the FED may have ‘secret systems’ that monitor the economy, and it’s under pressure to raise in anticipation of the next recession, but right now at least the stock markets are set to rally until years end, treasuries will probably reverse course as Wolf notes.

    The market tanked and everyone thinks we have inflation, rather than the obvious point that we don’t appear to have very much. An overbought market was the problem.

    Have you ever hear of ‘sticky prices’, well the stock market has been improperly digesting good and bad news for years now. Results have always been -the market continues up (on the back of cheap money).

    So is money getting more expensive? – not by much and every FED raise has already been priced into WallStreet’s
    models for months now.

    Whatever prosperity we have is due to cheap money, and the Fed knows it. I somehow doubt the Fed finally found religion on the basis of the presented data after ignoring asset inflation for years.

    • Smingles says:

      Agree 100%.

      Right now, a broad view of a variety of statistics– as opposed to one off increases in one statistic– indicate inflation is not even close to taking off.

      Read between the numbers.

      Headline inflation in January: 2.07%
      Headline inflation in December: 2.11%
      Headline inflation in November: 2.20%

      It’s dropping. That’s a trend.

      For inflation to actually become a problem, we’d need to see a strong trend of strong beats across a number of measures. We’re not even relatively close to that situation.

      I suspect the narrative of Wall St freaking out about inflation was just that… a narrative… only tangentially related to the truth, which is that nobody knows exactly why the market sold off. Overvaluation, perhaps. Stretched sentiment, perhaps. Profit taking, perhaps. A combination of many factors? Most likely.

  15. R2D2 says:

    These days stock market is simply just funny “Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO) on Wednesday reported a fiscal second-quarter loss of $8.78 billion, after reporting a profit in the same period a year earlier.” but its stock rises!! “Say whaaaat?” It’s funny to the point of being tragic as to how corrupt the stock market has become.

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