Braindead or Willfully Manipulative? How the Media Reported Retail Sales

Like a centrally directed disinformation campaign. Here’s what happened.

And it was everywhere. Misleading headlines about retail sales, from which reporters then extrapolated silly conclusions about the consumer while clamoring for a rate cut from the Fed.

Barron’s:

“The American consumer – backed by strong wage growth – has offset weakness in corporate profits and capital spending for much of the past year. The Commerce Department’s latest update of retail and food service spending, published Wednesday, suggests the growth spurt is over.

“The upshot? The slowdown could prompt a more vigorous “midcycle adjustment”—read: interest rate cuts – by the Federal Reserve when it meets at the end of the month….”

The Wall Street Journal:

“American shoppers pulled back on spending in September, signaling a key support for the U.S. economy this year could be softening amid a broader global economic slowdown.”

Bloomberg’s masterpiece about the suddenly “shaky” consumer:

“U.S. retail sales unexpectedly posted the first decline in seven months, suggesting consumers are starting to become shaky as the main pillar of economic growth and potentially bolstering the case for a third straight Federal Reserve interest-rate cut.”

So here is what happened.

The Commerce Department released its “Advance Estimates of U.S. Retail and Food Services” this morning. This is the first estimate for the month that will get revised – often substantially – in following months as more data become available. And the report said that in September compared to September last year:

  • Total retail & food services (restaurants, cafes, etc.) rose 4.1%.
  • Retail sales without food services rose 4.0%.
  • Food services sales rose 4.9%.
  • Retail sales without gasoline sales rose 4.7%.
  • Retail sales without gasoline, motor vehicles & parts sales rose 4.5%.
  • Sales at non-store retailers (ecommerce, vending machines, door-to-door, telemarketing, home parties such as Tupperware, etc.) rose 12.9%.

So, a 4.0% year-over-year increase in retail sales is pretty strong – and about in line what you’d expect from the mythic figure, the indomitable American consumer. It’s the second highest percentage increase (behind August’s 4.6%) since October last year:

But retail sales are very seasonal. And September sales, which always follow the back-to-school burst in August, always drop sharply from August, every year. So, here are the not-seasonally adjusted retail sales in billions of dollars. I marked the last six Septembers with red dots:

Not seasonally adjusted, retail sales in September fell 8.9% from August. Last year at this time, they fell 8.3%. In 2017, they fell 4.5%, in 2016, 5.4%. But in 2013, they fell 9.2%.

Labor Day weekend is big for retail, but it was pulled into August.

This year, Labor Day fell on September 2, and August 31 was a Saturday, which for accounting purposes in many industries pulled Labor Day sales into August. This includes auto dealers which closed their books on the first working day after the weekend, which was Tuesday, September 3.

Those sales showed up in August and not in September. This is not unusual. It happened in 2013, as well, when Labor Day Monday fell on September 2, and August books were closed on September 3, pulling all those sales into August. Hence the 9.2% drop from August to September 2013. In quarterly reporting, this noise disappears.

These effects of seasonality and calendar are well known (except among reporters).

To tone down the noise of these seasonal and calendar effects, the Commerce Department comes up with large “seasonal adjustments.” For example, the seasonal adjustments reduced the 8.9% drop in September from August to a 0.3% drop “seasonally adjusted.” This 0.3% drop is what the media got hung up about.

Not seasonally adjusted, retail sales in September were $436.7 billion, down 8.9% from August’s $479.6 billion. That’s a seasonal drop from month to month of $43 billion.

After seasonal adjustments, sales in September were suddenly $460.4 billion, down 0.3% from August’s seasonally adjusted $461.9 billion.

How huge are the seasonal adjustments? In September: $23.7 billion. This is the difference between the estimate of actual sales in September ($436.7 billion) and seasonally adjusted sales ($460.4 billion).

If these seasonal adjustments are off just a little bit, if for example, the seasonal adjustment should have been $2 billion more, a tiny amount compared to the magnitude of retail sales, retail sales would have risen +0.2%, instead of falling -0.3%.

In other words, seasonally adjusted month-to-month retail sales growth is only as good as the seasonal adjustments. It should either be ignored or be looked at after studying the other data first, as we have done a little bit of here.

Retail sales don’t turn around on a dime — unless there is a huge national crisis. And to claim, based on seasonally adjusted month-to-month data, that retail sales turned around from strong growth in August to sudden decline in September because the consumer suddenly got “shaky” is nonsense.

And if the financial media – which should know better – base headlines on this seasonally adjusted month-to-month retail sales growth figure, and if they extrapolate grander themes for the overall economy and even monetary policy – such as rate cuts – from that singular seasonally adjusted month-to-month retails sales growth figure, it’s either braindead reporting or willfully manipulative reporting with an agenda behind it (such as clamoring for a rate cut).

OK, now I feel better. Got this off my chest.

Cleveland Fed’s Underlying Inflation Measure Hits 3.0%, Hottest in the Data. Read…  Without the Outliers, Inflation Is Running Hot. Fed Has Started Mentioning these Measures in the Minutes

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  72 comments for “Braindead or Willfully Manipulative? How the Media Reported Retail Sales

  1. Prairies
    Oct 16, 2019 at 2:13 pm

    It would be nice to have a big enough marketing campaign to link your article in advertisements on every website screaming for rate cuts while the current marketplace is enjoy a peak.

  2. Javert Chip
    Oct 16, 2019 at 2:22 pm

    the 4-4-5 accounting system used by many retailers (restaurant chains & retail stores) can also distort calendar month-end accounting (Wolf’s already flagged Labor Day as suspect).

  3. Paulo
    Oct 16, 2019 at 2:34 pm

    It looks like the Financial Media is just plain lazy in doing their research. Why don’t they just take monthly Govt stats on inflation and employment numbers and….. oh, yeah. I forgot.

    Having said this, there may be a buying surge before Dec 15th to avoid tariffs. But that may be Fake news, too. :-)

    Thanks for pointing out the flawed research. Your commentors always provide interesting local market anecdotes and that might be more accurate in the long run. As an aside, I just spent the better part of a week visiting some US family members. We assiduously avoided politics, but did talk economics. When I brought up that the Market was only where it was due to people chasing yield, my in-law told me he disagreed and that it in fact reflected a strong economy. When I asked if it was so strong, then why did interest rates have to be so low, and why did it take two wage earners to barely support a family? He still disagreed and remarked the economy was healthy and booming. After that I did the good guest thingy and shut up. (Just like now :-) regards

    • Trinacria
      Oct 16, 2019 at 6:17 pm

      Paulo: your post prompts two thoughts in my mind:

      1. For a long time, especially during the past 10 years I believe we no longer have an economy, rather a political economy.
      2. Lyrics from a song by the Doobie brothers: ” But what a fool believes he sees, no wise man has the power to reason away ” … so definitely best just to be quiet…otherwise it becomes an exercise in urinating again the proverbial wind.

      Your in-law will one day find out the truth the old fashioned/hard way. I believe political economies will have landings that are a bit harder to say the least.

      Best regards as well.

    • Petunia
      Oct 17, 2019 at 8:42 am

      Economics is both macro and micro, you can be doing well in a bad economy or doing badly in a good economy. You may be looking at the bigger picture while your relative is happy with his situation, relative to his history.

    • Bud Fox
      Oct 17, 2019 at 11:58 am

      The “Financial Media” is not lazy. In terms of media, “lazy” is just a code word for “willfully manipulative.” And the Financial Media is “Willfully Manipulative”, and we see it all the time.

      We see Pump and Dump strategies using planted media reports all the time. The big Crypto booms are one recent example. Somebody makes a call saying they ‘love BlueStar Airlines’ (see Oliver Stone if you don’t get the reference), then there are articles about how wonderful BlueStar airlines is and how they not only make a profit but care about widows and orphans.

      We see this all over the place. There is not a single ‘financial media’ outlet that I’d trust. I was reading today on another site how BoomBerg (the site always in favor of nuclear war), deliberately misquoted Dimon about the recent repo crisis that has turned back on the spigots of cheap money from the Fed into the banks (which in turn control the Fed).

      Turing the Chine trade talks, I was starting to pursue a trading strategy of always doing the opposite of what the Financial Media was saying. The only time I lost money was the time I broke that personal rule.

      They aren’t ‘lazy’. Laziness is not allowed in corporate fiefdoms. They are instead corrupt and crooked as one would expect in a country where it is obvious that money can buy anything and everything.

      • Wisdom Seeker
        Oct 19, 2019 at 7:34 pm

        Bud Fox – You are exactly right. I’m late to the thread due to travel but I am seeing it all the time too. I feel like I’m living in Plato’s Cave, with the manipulators and their willing media accomplices deliberately casting false illusions in shadows on the wall.

  4. WES
    Oct 16, 2019 at 3:04 pm

    Well if it is O.K. to have “fake” news about politics then why be surprised that we also have “fake” news about the economy?

    After all we have business owners (Facebook/Amazon) buying newspapers (Washington Post) and TV (CNN) media to influence politics.

    Then there is the little side issue of the type of people who desire a career in journalism. Big on social matters but most come up more than a few cards short of a full deck on technical subjects.

    Ever notice the best technical media sites are run by technical non-jounalist types like Wolf with real world experiences!

    • Prairies
      Oct 16, 2019 at 3:42 pm

      There are plenty of anecdotes where people describe side conversations with media management where the personalities are allowed their own opinions, but if the opinions(fact based or not) do not align with the narrative that is desired from management the personality will find themselves out of a job or limited in appearances until they quit or change their tune.

      To see multiple outlets spinning the same web, that is the red flag that management/ownership have the narrative they want. Anyone steps out of line and they will be a Lone Wolf… Kinda like the one found here.

    • David Hall
      Oct 16, 2019 at 5:19 pm

      I noticed more fake news from politicians than the media recently.

      Describing retail data month to month or year to year, rather than seasonally adjusted is not a major bias.

      It does not tell you what will happen in the future. You can not drive forward by constantly looking in the rear view mirror.

      • Bud Fox
        Oct 17, 2019 at 12:07 pm

        Is there a difference? The Team Red Media gladly transmits any and all fake news from at Team Red politician, and the Team Blue Media gladly transmits any and all fake news from a Team Blue politician. I suspect most people only notice half of that, but when one is not a member of either Color of what is really One Big Team, then it is obvious that both Colors do this.

    • Erle
      Oct 17, 2019 at 10:29 pm

      The recently released recordings on Veritas show the cynical operatives at CNN that might just be telling more truth than bitching about their employer.

  5. RD Blakeslee
    Oct 16, 2019 at 3:20 pm

    “These effects of seasonality and calendar are well known (except among reporters).”

    I was a patent examiner and only saw ONE article in 17 years about the P.O. that did not contain at least one factual error.

    • Wisdom Seeker
      Oct 19, 2019 at 7:38 pm

      RD – agreed. I’ve never seen a single accurate news article on any story where I had personal knowledge, or did my own research from the primary sources… except for a few in the local paper.

      The non-corporate bloggers are going to destroy the dinosaur media if the dinos can’t start getting their facts straight.

  6. Endeavor
    Oct 16, 2019 at 3:31 pm

    Consumerism is America’s job. It is harder to implement since it became excessively debt based with the payment of interest to the banks as the prime directive. Many plates spinning in the air as Wolf often points out and the management of it by the players really is a sight to behold.

    • Trinacria
      Oct 16, 2019 at 6:27 pm

      If you haven’t seen it, there is a great George Carlin video on YouTube on consumption and consumerism….”buying stuff we don’t need with money we don’t have”. Carlin was hilarious and really had his finger on the pulse – man oh man, did he know the score!!!

  7. Pete in Toronto
    Oct 16, 2019 at 3:40 pm

    I am used to the business reporters in general newspapers and magazines making mistakes like this.

    But there’s no excuse for Barron’s, The Wall Street Journal, and Bloomberg!

    • doug
      Oct 17, 2019 at 8:22 am

      Possibly it was not a ‘mistake’? rather a purposeful misdirection …
      Fitting my tinfoil hat for winter…

      • Petunia
        Oct 17, 2019 at 8:48 am

        The media, all media, have become extensions of the two political parties. It’s mostly fake news.

        • sierra7
          Oct 18, 2019 at 11:19 am

          Pete In Toronto
          Doug
          Petunia
          +1000
          Misdirection for the “Necessary Illusions”.

  8. Oct 16, 2019 at 4:04 pm

    Okay the media can report on things that are reported to them if they issue a disclaimer, like this is the data from XYZ. https://www.thenation.com/article/wilbur-ross-noaa-hurricane-dorian/ Now in the hopes of finding who put out this questionable information perhaps we can find a whistleblower?

  9. Steve M
    Oct 16, 2019 at 4:08 pm

    Nice, clean analysis of a snapshot in an ongoing debacle. Some argue that it’s been a staple of mainstream media since Hearst told a hesitant reporter “You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.”

    However, I was baffled by the headline: “Braindead or Willfully Manipulative.”

    By what process were the other possible conjunctions eliminated?

  10. Andy F
    Oct 16, 2019 at 4:21 pm

    It would work much easier for YOY comparison of the month, and YTD. This year, September was up 3% over September last year, and YTD is 3% higher. I track the unadjusted numbers.

  11. Marc D.
    Oct 16, 2019 at 4:22 pm

    Good article. However, I disagree about what the media’s agenda here might be. I think it’s more likely to make Trump look bad, rather than due to wanting a rate cut.

    • Eastwind
      Oct 17, 2019 at 5:56 am

      I agree. There are a lot of anti-Trumpers intentionally talking up the possibility of a recession. The hope is to change people’s expectations, especially CFOs, and get them to cut back in anticipation of a recession, which will then bring about the recession, just in time for the election. Or so they hope. Because without a recession many think it’s going to be 4 more years.

      This lets-talk-about-recession narrative has spread around the media almost as if some hidden hand is pushing it, and it includes all sorts of talking heads who generally appear to care more about politics than investments, so I think that’s the reason for much of the recession talk.

      Granted, an outfit like the WSJ is probably looking for the rate cut. So it’s some of both, but its mostly anti-Trump.

      • Oct 17, 2019 at 10:01 am

        Yeah and every mistake the president makes is a conspiracy. In a nation of codependent enablers, the WSJ by its own boilerplate countenances the Trump agenda; no regulation, corporate tax cuts. The recession is ROW, creeping in under the door. Fortunately (evil) China is going to keep their foot on the gas, and (disloyal allies) Europe and Japan will buy assets for their balance sheets, and those foreign dollars come into our bourse because our interest rates are slightly higher, (idiot Fed chief raised rates) and our treasury bonds are good as cash (though he promised to default on that debt in his campaign) and we allow all sorts of financial engineering to jack up corporate profits for the 1%, ( of which he is one). Now the plan ROW, is to push through any recession with money printing, and that worked in 16 so it will work again. The Fed just needs to dovetail and potus needs to shut up and get out of the way. If you see this oped in WSJ in slightly different terms, you shouldn’t be surprised.

  12. Gandalf
    Oct 16, 2019 at 4:25 pm

    My theory is that the financial world, besides actually wanting the lower rates, also want Trump re-elected, and want to keep this current robust economy which is built on lies and mountains of debt and more debt to keep on humming with ever more easy money and debt.

    This will push the long delayed recession further down the road, past the November elections in 2020, get Trump reelected, and make the inevitable debt bomb explosion even bigger, but after the election

    Trump of course also knows his re-election will be based on whether the economy is still in good shape or not, which is why he keeps pushing the Fed to lower rates

    • daniel weise
      Oct 16, 2019 at 10:35 pm

      The “financial world” is not the same as the financial media. I watch Bloomberg for their data gathering news but like most of these mainstream conglomerates have a decidedly globalist and “progressive” flavor. Pro Trump they are definitely NOT. I would imagine their dream candidate would be a Jamie Diamond or Lady Lagarde or anyone with a bit more Swamp Loyalty?

  13. Michael Engel
    Oct 16, 2019 at 4:27 pm

    1) Sep 2019 retail sales without gasoline rose 4.7%.
    2) Since 2009 retail sales trend is up. 3) Dec 2017 & Dec 2018 are both equal at $500B level.
    4) But WTI range in Dec 2017 was higher ($56-$60) than in
    Dec 2018 ($42- $55), so gasoline at the pump was much cheaper in
    Dec 2018. It suggest that retail sales without gasoline were rising,
    despite SPX massacre.

  14. Scott
    Oct 16, 2019 at 4:45 pm

    I was thinking the same thing today reading through different headlines. The consumer is still doing fine despite the tariffs, Brexit, Forever Impeach and the media.

  15. sc7
    Oct 16, 2019 at 5:00 pm

    But zero(brains)hedge told me it PLUNGED!

    • Oct 16, 2019 at 10:25 pm

      soviet agitprop

    • fajensen
      Oct 17, 2019 at 2:54 am

      I think that Zero Hedge likely works for some LLC operating out of a very plain, totally forgettable cinder-block rent-an-office, likely located close to Langley, Virginia or maybe someplace in Utah!

      Think of ZH as a test-site for someone scoping out media influencing operations. The site contents (and the trolls it attracts) seems to be designed to overwhelm the brain with emotions to disrupt critical thinking so that the real propaganda items mixed in with all the ‘brain sugar’ will stick better. Kinda like when dyeing clothes – one has to first open up the fibres with some chemicals to make the colouring stick!

      The knowledge gained from the prototyping can then be transferred to the Production Environments, like the Daily Mail, The SUN, The Mirror, The Telegraph and so on!

      • Bead
        Oct 17, 2019 at 8:48 am

        Zero Hedge publishes all kinds of stuff, including articles from this site. There is a high percentage of kookiness but some legit content as well. I appreciate that site for its opposition to (or independence from) MSM reportage.

  16. Joe
    Oct 16, 2019 at 5:24 pm

    Another Tesla problem surfaces…Their flash memories are wearing out.

    • buda atum
      Oct 17, 2019 at 7:29 am

      You mean they forgetting?
      How would I get home now!?

      Wolf, please consider a comment like button for simple folks like me.

  17. Ken Wu
    Oct 16, 2019 at 5:29 pm

    I find it rather curious that retail sales are rising every year while tens of thousands of retail stores close in the worst retail implosion in the nations’ history.

    ‘But Amazon…’ just doesnt cut it.

    • sc7
      Oct 16, 2019 at 5:41 pm

      Higher concentration of spend at those that remain and adapt. More aggregate spend concentrated in fewer locations in more affluent areas.

      • Oct 16, 2019 at 5:54 pm

        Yes. Simply put, selling fewer things at higher prices. Look at the auto industry.

    • Oct 16, 2019 at 7:06 pm

      Ken Wu,

      Ecommerce is growing at a rate of 13% – 15%. It is now a $600 billion a year business. Amazon is just one player. There are millions of players, including huge ones, such as Walmart, and little guys, right here with our WOLF STREET beer mugs.

      Then there are certain brick-and-mortar retailers that are still largely immune to ecommerce: gasoline stations, new vehicle dealers, and grocery stores. Combined they account for about half of brick-and-mortar retail.

      The other half of brick-and-mortar — particularly department stores and mall stores — are getting wiped out bit by bit.

      https://wolfstreet.com/2019/08/19/how-the-ecommerce-boom-plows-down-mall-retailers-one-by-one/

      In terms of explaining long-term retail growth, you also need to figure in price increases and population growth.

      • fajensen
        Oct 17, 2019 at 3:34 am

        And time spent at work or travelling to work. With my schedule, and for many like me, we don’t have the free hours at the end of each day to waste on going shopping.

        When we are off work, we *certainly* do not want to waste the time going to a shitty, noisy, overcrowded place like a mall, we want to go somewhere pleasant and relaxing instead, do something we *like* to do.

      • Erle
        Oct 17, 2019 at 10:55 pm

        Nice pitch on the beer mugs. OK, I’ll buy a couple but you would be better off with a donation of the same amount.
        I exhort the cheap bastards that read the site for free to kick in for your possible chance for Heaven or at least a reduction of a few thousand years in Purgatory.

        • Oct 17, 2019 at 11:36 pm

          Erle,

          Thanks. As far as I’m concerned, the mugs are for fun. It’s humor. They make fun of me, and I love that. If you enjoy them and have fun with them and get a laugh out of them and use them as a conversation piece — that makes me happy.

      • otishertz
        Oct 18, 2019 at 1:31 am

        What’s to stop car retailers from showrooming and only carrying demo models in proportion with test drive requests and all order fullfillment done by delivery like with wonderboy motor’s rechargable IED cars?

        Floor planning and related infastructure would be massively reduced. Auto retail could easily and quickly become a de facto large part of non-store retail numbers, with massive savings for the industry, and probably a better customer experience.

        • Oct 18, 2019 at 9:05 am

          otishertz,

          New-vehicle dealers are governed by the franchise agreements they have with the manufacturers, and both the manufacturers and dealers are governed by state franchise laws. One of the big reasons franchise laws exist is to protect the dealers from out-of-state competition, and from competition by their manufacturers (who’d like to sell direct and get around the dealers). This is why Tesla doesn’t yet have stores in all states — because those state franchise laws have not been amended to allow factory ownership of auto dealers.

          So any significant change in how new vehicles are sold is complicated to implement — and there are a lot of businesses with strong lobbying power at the state level lined up against any changes.

    • char
      Oct 16, 2019 at 9:06 pm

      The definition they use for retail includes ecommerce.. If you look at mall stores sales alone you see a big contraction.

    • ML
      Oct 18, 2019 at 12:34 am

      Retail is not a level playing field. Not enough spending to go around for everyone. It is also competitive. Which means ultimately most retailers will have fallen by the wayside. Which to the lack of choice brigade would be considered a bad thing but to actual customers good. After all, who wants to buy from the mediocre?

  18. Old-school
    Oct 16, 2019 at 5:35 pm

    4% seems about. That roughly nominal growth rate. Deduct 2% inflation adjustment and there is your 2% real GDP. To bad it’s taking more than 4% federal deficit to keep it all going. I think in reality we aren’t paddling updates as fast as current is flowing down.

    • DV
      Oct 17, 2019 at 10:58 am

      Everything gets adjusted these days. Consumer inflation is the first victim, but it is highly unlikely that it is at two percent. Closer to four, maybe. This is the most manipulated index. So the increases are mostly inflation. The GDP growth is mostly inflation adjustment.

  19. Unamused
    Oct 16, 2019 at 6:07 pm

    Braindead or Willfully Manipulative?

    Both. They pretend to be braindead to conceal their manipulations.

    It’s really very simple. Wall St. wants a rate cut, so they tell their minions in the media to spin the news accordingly to promote it. It’s why they bought up the news media, so the Mighty Wurlizter can brainwash the plebians, even though in most cases a light rinse is sufficient.

    • Wisdom Seeker
      Oct 19, 2019 at 7:44 pm

      This. And note that the pattern of Willful Manipulation extends to Every Single Article, on Every Possible Subject. Not just finance and economics.

  20. Kasadour
    Oct 16, 2019 at 6:11 pm

    So there is no retail apocalypse?

    • Oct 16, 2019 at 6:48 pm

      Kasadour,

      Mall stores are in terrible shape. Ecommerce is booming — as I’ve been saying for years. This process keeps on going. It’s a brick-and-mortar meltdown and an Ecommerce boom.

  21. Matt
    Oct 16, 2019 at 6:23 pm

    Thanks for this piece and all the work you put into this and all of your articles. I read them and share them with several friends. Please do not stop your work!

  22. Grant Noble
    Oct 16, 2019 at 6:40 pm

    Normally Wolf’s commentaries are spot on, but not this one. One only has to look at real inflation rate (3% of the Cleveland Fed’s Median CPI is certainly too low in the real world outside hedonic and rent equivalent game playing) and you can see there is no after inflation growth in retail sales. Agreed, seasonal adjustments should be scrapped and year over year comparisons should replace them, but that would take away a wonderful tool to play games for government stats when needed (like election time). One glance at the nominal retail sales shows a very decided topping action over the last two years. Sorry, Wolf. Your thesis of a bifurcated economy (manufacturing vs. consumer) is no longer true. The sharp drop in auto sales is beyond an end of the month accident. Finally the world slow down is coming to America, too. Believe the yield curve inversion—it has not failed in the past and it won’t now. The only question is whether the recession will be obvious to everyone by the time of the 2020 election.

    • Oct 17, 2019 at 12:05 pm

      “Normally Wolf’s commentaries are spot on, but not this one.”

      Please read my article before you say something like that. Your comment suggests that you have no idea what I said in my article. Your comment discusses an entirely different topic that I never once mentioned in the article. The article was about how the media reported the seasonally adjusted month-to-month retail figure and the erroneous conclusions it drew from it.

  23. Augusto
    Oct 16, 2019 at 8:18 pm

    You see this nonsense all the time in the media. Select particular stats and write an article around those stats, ending up with a perverse if not false narrative.

    That being said, I will just never understand how borrowing money to buy stuff is consider an economic good. Debt will last but the “stuff”? We’re not talking about necessities here, but eating out and shopping. “A healthy consumer” sounds like an oxymoron to me.

    • ML
      Oct 18, 2019 at 12:39 am

      “That being said, I will just never understand how borrowing money to buy stuff is consider an economic good.”

      Debt enslaves and buying is addictive. ‘Healthy’ buying – reducing consumption – is not addictive. Good for the customer but not good for the economy.

  24. HR01
    Oct 16, 2019 at 8:25 pm

    Wolf,

    Many, many thanks for taking the time to dissect this disinformation.

    When that headline crossed on the screen, the BS-o-meter started to red-line. As you say, retail sales do not reverse course in the blink of an eye.

    Locally, we see the strength of the consumer. Our local shopping mall has been doing a very brisk business recently. Thought at first this was back-to school sales ramping but the foot traffic has remained robust through Sep and Oct.

    Thanks again for skewering the MSM propaganda. Silly season is fast approaching so we should expect lots more of this type of “reporting” in the next year.

    Slainte!

  25. Dale
    Oct 16, 2019 at 9:56 pm

    Wolf has once again reaffirmed my faith in the financial mainstream media. Or, rather, my complete lack of faith.

    • Oct 16, 2019 at 11:16 pm

      Dale,

      I’m not that negative about them. They carry a lot of good and important articles, and good data, but they also throw in some doozies, like these retail reports, and you really have to pay attention when you read them to see what is solid and what is for the birds.

      • Erle
        Oct 17, 2019 at 11:10 pm

        What do you have against birds? I try to BS the migrating perch birds and they fly away without giving me any economic theory.

  26. kevin
    Oct 16, 2019 at 11:27 pm

    Well, its the usual “pretend & extend” game, we all used to play when we were little tots. You know, the one where everyone dances in circles around empty chairs…. until the music suddenly stops.
    Last one with no chair gets to be the class pinata for the rest of the day. lol.

    Difference now, is that adults are playing the same game and last one out of the market, or lost his pension to the bond vultures, or last one who still believes in his lovely democratic government, jumps out the window.

    The same can be said for many other countries’ reporting on retail numbers. In my state, they always obfuscate it by saying retail sales WITHOUT auto sales.

    A really big part of retail revenue IS vehicular sales. The price of one vehicle now can buy you the equivalent many 60-inch TVs, or dozens of advanced computers, or a handful of air-conditioning units, and container loads of gadgets or clothing etc.

    Basically, most folks now are spending only on knick-knacks and little wingding “stuff” each costing like $3 apiece from Walmart. So, retail cash registers may be busy but the actual absolute dollar collections is miserable without vehicular sales.

    Digg.com today has not 1, but 3 articles on the death of vehicles….
    A coincidence or a sign of things to come?

    https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20191011-what-happens-when-a-city-bans-car-from-its-streets?utm_source=digg

    https://reasonstobecheerful.world/spains-happy-little-carless-city/?utm_source=digg

    https://www.insidehook.com/article/vehicles/the-life-and-slow-death-of-the-sedan?utm_source=digg

    PS: Sorry Wolf, for directing your readers to other links, but this is just to show that its (retail apocalypse) happening almost everywhere, besides the US.

    • char
      Oct 17, 2019 at 6:55 pm

      Retail sales always exclude home sales. Shouldn’t they not be include too? You have to pay VAT on new builds IIRC.

      ps. I think they are right to exclude cars. The month-to-month numbers depend to much on the special deals the motor companies run and would distort retail inc. cars to much to make the resulting number useful. Besides the car sale market has little in common with other retail markets outside how the general economy is doing and are big enough to report them independent as with home sales.

  27. ultra
    Oct 16, 2019 at 11:49 pm

    The retail figures, like the 4.1% increase in total retail sales has not been adjusted for price changes (inflation) and the growth of the US population (because of immigration). The widely reported inflation of 2–3% per year is actually an underestimate of the actual price increases caused by inflation because of hedonic adjustments. Growth in the US population is about 1% per year at the present time. Once you subtract the unadjusted rate of inflation and population growth from the 4.1% increase in total retail sales, there was likely no real increase in total retail sales or even a decline. So the US consumer is not driving the economy forward, contrary to what has been claimed here.

    • Oct 17, 2019 at 1:20 am

      But wait. biggest increases in inflation are in services, such as health care, finance and insurance, education, etc. Those are not retail. Inflation in goods (retail) is a lot lower than in services.

  28. KFritz
    Oct 17, 2019 at 12:32 am

    Wall Street Kool-Aid is a dangerous, addictive intoxicant. Only politicians who rely on the FIRE sector have a worse Jones than the Fourth Estate.

  29. Eferg
    Oct 17, 2019 at 7:31 am

    Great reporting. The second graph showing monthly data with September highlighted is a very powerful chart showing steady growth in retail sales.

    It is also a sad commentary on the MSM. I have a hard time believing they are that brain dead. But I can easily believe they are mesmerized by some pied piper with an agenda. The issue becomes who is the piper and what is the agenda.

  30. CreditGB
    Oct 17, 2019 at 10:02 am

    “The media reported…” Enough said.

  31. MCH
    Oct 17, 2019 at 11:06 am

    Wolf,

    Don’t be so down on these guys. Think of it as them looking ahead to when the day are adjusted numbers are out. Then they are proven inevitably correct. Or better yet, you need to consider the date line as mutable, so they are correct on substance, just need to change the timing.

    Tomorrow’s news today, if you will.

    So, they aren’t in the news business, they are in the fortune telling business.

    • Bud Fox
      Oct 17, 2019 at 12:14 pm

      Thanks for the reminder that its time for my annual viewing of the classic movie “Network”. :)

  32. ML
    Oct 18, 2019 at 12:54 am

    Same here in the UK. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) which represents circa 60-70% multiple retailers, announced that September sales down. Whereas the official figures Office of National Statistics (ONS) indicate that sales are up. Guess who got given the most publicity? Imv, the bulk of BRC membership is in trouble/struggling so inevitably its reporting is bias and subjective, whereas the ONS is objective. True there have been and continue to be some high-profile insolvencies but all are self+inflicted.

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