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What's Down With Nominal US Retail Sales Growth?

Economics / US Economy Mar 14, 2007 - 11:53 AM GMT

By: Paul_L_Kasriel

Economics Asha will do her usual excellent job of synthesizing the February retail sales report and highlighting the important implications of it. But I wanted to call your attention to an interesting trend change in retail sales.


As shown in the chart below, the trend in nominal retail sales is down. The year-over-year change in the 3-month moving average of nominal retail sales was 3.69% in February (read off the left-hand scale), down from its peak growth of 9.25% in August 2005 and the slowest growth since June 2003. Why the pronounced downward trend in the growth of nominal retail sales? Well, perhaps because of the downward trend in overall consumer inflation, largely as a result of the decline in oil prices from their 2006 peak of $75 a barrel.

But why would the decline in oil prices be associated with a decline in the growth of nominal retail sales? Won't folks spend their gas pump savings at the mall, thus maintaining the growth in nominal retail sales? Perhaps some folks are starting to develop anxiety about their finances and are depositing their gas pump savings into a savings account at a bank? Whatever the reason for the current sharp slowing in the trend of nominal retail sales growth, past such sharp slowing trends have typically been associated with declines in the federal funds rate - presumably purposely engineered by the Fed - and/or recessions. But it's probably just the weather this time.

By Paul Kasriel
The Northern Trust Company
Economic Research Department - Daily Global Commentary

Paul joined the economic research unit of The Northern Trust Company in 1986 as Vice President and Economist, being named Senior Vice President and Director of Economic Research in 2000. His economic and interest rate forecasts are used both internally and by clients. The accuracy of the Economic Research Department's forecasts has consistently been highly-ranked in the Blue Chip survey of about 50 forecasters over the years. To that point, Paul received the prestigious 2006 Lawrence R. Klein Award for having the most accurate economic forecast among the Blue Chip survey participants for the years 2002 through 2005.

The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Northern Trust Company. The Northern Trust Company does not warrant the accuracy or completeness of information contained herein, such information is subject to change and is not intended to influence your investment decisions.


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