Thursday, May 10, 2007

Economic News of the Day

A couple of interesting tidbits today. First, indications about April retail sales, as reported by Marketwatch:
Easter egged April sales; most retailers miss

April was largely a sales disaster for most of the nation's biggest retail-chain operators, as consumers pulled in their purse strings after March's spending spree and as they faced rising prices at the gas pump, as well as a slumping housing market.

...With 51 retailers reporting to Thomson Financial, 85% of them missed expectations for same-store sales, the industry's benchmark for growth measured by receipts rung up at stores open longer than a year. Overall, the data showed a 1.8% decrease.

The International Council of Shopping Centers weighs its results differently and tallied an overall same-store sales drop of 2.3% to set the largest decline on record, which dates back to November 1970. For the combined period, same-store sales were up an anemic 1.8%, below the 2.8% expectation.

"It's an ugly picture," said Michael Niemira, ICSC's chief economist. "The 2.3% decline is a wake-up call that something fundamental is going on."
Second, there was new trade data released today. Menzie Chinn:
Trade Deficit Stabilization Deferred

The March trade figures are in at BEA, and many are surprised. Bloomberg reports:
U.S. Economy: Trade Deficit Widens More Than Forecast (Update3)

May 10 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. trade deficit widened more than forecast in March as higher oil shipments drove the biggest increase in imports in more than four years.

The deficit rose 10.4 percent to $63.9 billion, the Commerce Department said today in Washington. Imports and exports were the second highest on record. Climbing fuel costs also pushed the price of foreign goods higher for a third month in April, the Labor Department reported separately.
...I might observe that the trade balance is one of the wild cards in the expected revision of the GDP numbers going from the advance to the preliminary 07Q1 release. At the time, some analysts argued that the GDP numbers would be revised upward because of strong GDP growth abroad would suggest a surge in exports. As it was, nominal exports of goods and services did grow 21% on a annualized m/m basis (log terms). But nominal imports ex. oil grew by 33% (the total grew by 53%). Things look better on a 3 month change basis. Then it's nominal exports by 3%, non-oil imports by 4.9%, and nominal total imports by 7.2%. Still, over the first quarter of 2007, imports by any measure are increasing faster in nominal terms than exports.
In a sense, these two reports send conflicting signals. The first tells us that consumer spending may be slowing. But the rise in non-oil imports indicated in the trade data suggests strong spending by American businesses and consumers. I'm not quite sure how to square this circle...

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