Retailers, consumers and prices
Check out the fading influence of tax rebate checks.
Tax rebate checks helped boost June retail sales but their influence appears to have petered out by July, according to data released by the Commerce Department on Wednesday.
The figures showed that total sales at U.S. retailers declined 0.1 percent in July, which was in line with forecasts made by Wall Street economists. A big reason for the drop was a fall off in auto sales. Auto and auto parts sales fell 2.4 percent in the month, their biggest drop since April, and were off a whopping 10.5 percent from year-ago levels.
But excluding autos, retail sales were up 0.4 percent in July. That was roughly in line with forecasts, but down from a 0.9 percent rise in June.
Economists said before the numbers were released that spending has been supported by government stimulus checks but that the stimulus effect was waning in July because most of the checks already have been issued. Meanwhile, prices for many food items are on the rise and there was only a slight moderation in gasoline prices during the month.
The Commerce Department said on Tuesday that total sales at U.S. retailers rose a less-than-expected 0.1 percent in June. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast total retail sales to rise 0.4 percent in June, following a 0.8 percent gain in May.
Another 27,000 retail jobs disappeared in May, according to the U.S. government’s monthly employment report. That makes 152,000 retail jobs eliminated since the beginning of the year.
Overall, nonfarm payrolls fell by 49,000. But even more worrisome for the economy and for retailers could be the jump in the unemployment rate to 5.5 percent. That half-point jump was the largest such move in 22 years and brought the unemployment rate to its highest level in 3-1/2 years.
Retailer’s May sales reports yesterday were mostly better than expected, causing some analysts to think they could signal the beginning of a consumer turnaround.
But others said it just showed a blip in spending that was caused by the tax rebate checks consumers have begun to receive.
Economic concerns could still linger after all that stimulus money is gone, they say, and things could get worse if consumers, already hit by $4-a-gallon gasoline, soaring food prices and falling home values really start to worry about their jobs.
Wonder how a half-point jump in the unemployment number plays into that?
Meanwhile, to take your mind of the jobs report, there’s always the company pep rally that masquerades as the Wal-Mart annual meeting. The world’s-largest retailer flies in employees from all around the world to help pack the basketball arena at the University of Arkansas, where stars entertain the crowd (this year’s acts include Miley Cyrus), everybody does the Wal-Mart cheer, and, oh yeah, shareholders get to ask questions.
Also in the basket:
New Wal-Mart director may herald changing of the guard (Wall Street Journal, subscription required)
Target grows makeup artist brands, adds testers (WWD)
The average price for gasoline soared 6.9 cents over the last week to a record of $3.79 a gallon. That means the national price for regular, self-service gasoline is now up 57 cents from a year ago, according to data relased by the federal Energy Information Administration on Monday.
With personal income stagnating, consumers are finding it hard to offset the ongoing spike in gas prices.