Tuesday, September 16, 2014

16/9/2014: Allegedly, Irish Consumers Have Pulled Back Spending in August

It is with some puzzlement that I read the following tweet:

Being aware that there has not been any new data on retail sales or consumer demand issued today, I opened the link: http://www.independent.ie/business/irish/irish-households-pull-back-in-spending-last-month-new-figures-show-30590499.html

It turns out that the 'pulling back' of 'spending' is really a 'pulling back' of consumer confidence.

And indeed, as chart below shows, Consumer Confidence reported by the ESRI fell from a very high reading of 89.4 in July to 87.1 in August:

Now, we do not have August data for retail sales yet. And these may or may not have fallen. But Consumer Confidence decline has preciously little to say about the actual household spending or consumer demand or retail sales. Especially in the medium (3 months and over).

Take a look at data we do have:

  • In January 2014, Consumer Confidence rose m/m strongly, but seasonally-adjusted retail sales barely rose in value terms and strongly shrunk in volume terms.
  • In February 2014, Consumer Confidence rose again strongly, but seasonally-adjusted retail sales remained unchanged in volume terms and fell strongly in value terms.
  • In March 2014, Consumer Confidence moderated significantly, and retail sales fell in volume and value terms.
  • In April 2014, Confidence rose dramatically and both volume and value indices of retail sales rose as well. 
  • In May 2014, Confidence indicator tracked both retails sales indices to the downside.
  • In June 2014, Confidence tracked volume and value of retail sales to the upside.
  • In July 2014, Confidence rose dramatically, but retail sales shrunk in both volume and value terms.
So in last 7 months, Consumer Confidence changes tracked changes in actual consumer demand in 4 and did not track demand in 3. That is hardly a record to base any conclusions on. But historically things are even worse.

The chart above shows that Consumer Confidence historically shows a weak relationship with the Volume of Retail Sales and a very weak relationship with the Value of Retail Sales. Worse, these weak relationships fall to nil - or vanish completely - for quarterly readings:

So whatever KBC lads might say, ESRI Consumer Confidence does not indicate that households pulled back their spending in August. It might, however, suggest that consumer are not expressing same levels of enthusiasm about their current prospects and this might mean they could have pulled back spending. 

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