Thursday, February 12, 2009

Market Doesn't Believe Retail Sales Report

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. In addition to the term helicopter economics, we have also coined the term, helicopternomics, to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government and to update the old-fashioned term wheelbarrow economics.

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As we have reported in this blog many times, the U.S. government has been blatantly manipulating its economic reports for years now. Nevertheless, the market generally believes them despite their internal inconsistency or the existence of other information that is strongly contradictory. This willingness to believe seems to have broken down today with the release of the Retail Sales Report for January. The numbers were good and way above expectations. Instead of rallying as it should have, the stock market tanked.

According to the government statisticians, retail sales rose 1% in January. The forecast among economists (who can't be trusted either) was for a drop of 0.8%. Perhaps this discrepancy was just too great for the market to buy it. The report furthermore had a big gain in apparel purchases, even though same store sales data for clothing chains showed a big decline. A number of retail industry watchers commented on this discrepancy and other anecdotal evidence that seemed to contradict the government's view. There seemed to be a consensus that the numbers would just be revised downward next month.

Looking inside the report, this is indeed what happened for December's numbers. Originally reported down 2.6% (not 2.7% as most media stories stated), the drop for December is now an even more horrendous 3.0%. The January rise of 1.0% would be from this lower number, or only up 0.6% above the number first reported. The news media always fails to point this out and this leaves a gaping loophole for creating good news where none exists. The real numbers, which are much worse, only come out a month or two later and the media pays little attention to them. There have been cases in other government reports where the revisions downward were so significant that even though there was a 'rise' in the numbers for the current month, the total was actually lower than the first number reported the month before. So even though the numbers are actually declining, they were reported as going up. This does not appear to be the case for the January Retail Report however. The good numbers seem to rely more on the falsification of the figures.

There was one another oddity in this Retail Sales Report as well and that is how it was covered by the news services. Articles were unusually short and details limited - this immediately made me suspicious of course. I had to search to find more extensive coverage (filled with negative commentary from everyone interviewed) and this has not happened before. It will be interesting to see if the new scepticism on the market's part spreads to the even more absurd inflation, jobs, and GDP reports. If it does, when the economic news actually does become better, no one will believe it.

NEXT: Deepening Global Recession Means More Inflation

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer,New York Investing meetup

This posting is editorial opinion. Like all other postings for this blog, there is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.

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