Now It's Retail Sales that Needs Adjustment

Bill Tatro
|
Posted: Mar 15, 2013 12:01 AM

First it was the employment reports, now it’s retail sales.  Please, please, please, is there any government or corporate number that is not adjusted, seasonalized, defined as a nonrecurring event, or known as a reduction in reserves? 

Several weeks ago, Wall Street was stunned when a corporate executive at Walmart inadvertently had an email message revealed which proclaimed, “Where are all the customers?”  “Where’s all the money?”  “Worst February in years!” 

Thus, is it actually possible that declining household income, increased Social Security taxes, revised food and gas prices, and dramatically rising part-time jobs are all conclusively taking their toll on the economy? 

Most economists that were surveyed thought — contrary to the Walmart message — that John Q. Public would shake off all such trivialities and continue to spend in February, albeit with some restraint at 0.7%.  So, when the news first came across the desk at the U.S. Department of Commerce and it was learned that February experienced the first sequential decline in retail sales since February of 2010, it was time for the “seasonality police” to take immediate action.  And act they certainly did. 

Somehow, the implemented seasonal adjustment created a growth of $4.4 billion which was more than enough to allow for the pronouncement of a so-called 1.1% increase in retail sales for the month of February. 

Hallelujah, the consumer is back, but of course, on an “adjusted basis.”  Since this retail sales report definitely left me perplexed, I thought I’d analyze my own spending habits in order to determine how “adjusted” I had become. 

Therefore, I evaluated three items that I purchase with consistency: a gallon of gas, four apples along with two oranges, and, of course, a Starbuck’s Americano.  One month ago, all three items cost approximately $3.50 each. 

Yet, for the exact same items, I just recently paid 8.5% more. 

Based upon that analysis, which is the actual hard data, I’m a consumer who’s back!  After all, a monthly spending increase of 8.5% completely obliterates the most recent national average.  Now, just imagine superimposing the “adjusted basis” on my results. 

With the price of the apples and the oranges probably remaining the same, the assumption would be made that since February is usually cold and harsh, my consumption of Venti’s would at least be double. 

In addition, my trips to the gas station would also include a purchase of a reduced-price DVD to view on those long, wintry February evenings. 

Consequently, I’m sure that on an “adjusted basis,” I’m good for at least an additional 4%.  Hey, Commerce Department, forget polling the country, just call me. 

I can clearly visualize the newspaper headline, “U.S. Consumer’s Retail Sales Climb an Astonishing 12.5% in February (On an Adjusted Basis, of Course.)”