Monday, February 28, 2011

28/02/2011: Retail sales for January

Headline stuff: the volume of retail sales (i.e. excluding price effects) increased by 4.6% in January 2011 when compared with January 2010 and there was a monthly decrease of 3.8%. Now, wait, that sounds good?

Not really. Let’s take another shot at that statement: volume of retail sales was up 4.6% yoy in January 2011, but it was down 3.8% on December 2010. In fact, it was down for the third month running, having declined 0.6% in November, then 1.9% in December and now 3.8% in January. The rate of decline is accelerating so far. And at a massive speed: x3 times in November-December and at x2 times in December-January. (Mrs G is putting that bubbly back in the fridge right now).

But what about the value of sales? Remember – CSO likes volume indices cause they tell you how much physical stuff was shifted through the stores. But let’s not forget that retail sales jobs and businesses depend not on volume, but on value of stuff being sold. Exactly the same picture here as in the case of volume. Value of retail sales was up 4.0% on January 2010, but it was down for the third month running (-1.5%) in monthly terms.

Let me toss in another factoid here. December sales were extremely poor in 2010, but not so much in 2009. In fact, December 2010 value of sales was down 4.0% on December 2009. So the rush post-Christmas into sales was much shallower in 2010 than in 2011. Hence, the current ‘boom in retail sales’ announced today by CSO is nothing more than a compensatory run onto the post-Christmas sales racks. (Mrs G is now putting away the celebratory bottle of Sprite back into the fridge).

And one more point – the value of sales index has been artificially boosted by rampant price inflation in several categories of sales where prices are state-controlled or subject to commodities price inflation (see below).

Now to updated charts:
You can see what I meant by the spin above and below (notice the divergence of monthly and annual rates of change):
And just in case you want to see it: relative to peak retail sales are still declining
Faster rate of decline in the volume, of course, is due to rising prices (as mentioned above).

Now to ex-motors sales (or core sales):
Ok, now, if Motor Trades are excluded, the volume of retail sales decreased by 1.2% in January 2011 when compared with January 2010, while there was a monthly increase of 2.7%. Value of sales rose mom 2.6% although year on year there was a decline of 1%. Both value and volume of core sales broke two months declines in November and December. And this is good news. Relative to peak, value of sales is now at 82.21% (up from 80.10% in December 2010) and volume of sales is at 86.5% (up from 84.19% in December 2010). Last time value of sales was at this level was in June 2010 and volume – in November.
And take a look at the detailed sub-categories of sales:
  • Motor trades - -4.2% in value and -3.5% in volume, so either we are buying cheaper and cheaper cars (in fewer numbers) or prices are falling faster than sales;
  • Department stores down 12% in volume (mom) and 12.3% in value - symmetric drop-off as sales prices continued through the month;
  • Fuel - volume of sales is up 0.9% mom (down 1.4% yoy), but value of sales is up 2.8% mom and 10.4% yoy - as mentioned above - inflation, folks is biting;
  • Non-food business excluding motors, fuel and bars - now, here's the real retail sector story: -0.6% mom and -4.0% yoy in value of sales, and -0.9% mom and -1.5% yoy in volume - deflation and shrinking sales means recession continues.
  • Of course, our massive newsflow has boosted Books, Newspapers and Stationery category - +4.9% mom in January in value and +2.7% mom in volume;
  • Lastly, in tune with the nation watching Vincent Brown and other current affairs programmes, we've invested heavily in furniture and lightning - up 9.5% mom in value and 9.3% in volume

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