April retail sales: Consumers stay zombified

The Census Bureau reported this morning that:

Retail trade sales were down 0.4 percent (±0.7%)* from March 2009 and 11.4 percent (±0.7%) below last year. Gasoline stations sales were down 36.4 percent (±1.5%) from April 2008 and motor vehicle and parts dealers sales were down 20.7 percent (±2.3%) from last year.

This drop was not anticipated by most observers.

As with March, it appears that almost all of the decline in consumer sales vs. a year ago is cars and gas. (Update: Ex-gas and cars, YoY retail sales are flat to -0.1%).

Last month's decline failed to take into account the early Easter from last year vs. this year. Thus we should probably average the two months' data, for a decline of -.9% YoY.

For now, the consumer decline isn't getting significantly worse, but the consumer resurrection from the grave has stalled.



I am watching consumer credit and

Household Debt as a percent of disposable income and I wonder if we won't see improvement until these measures reach 2003 levels. If that is the case we have a long way to go.

I agree with Calculated Risk: the two drivers for the economy have not shown up - consumers and residential investment. And that won't happen until household balance sheets improve which will take a lot de-leveraging and savings.

Given the abject fear of debt

That the housing bubble popping has caused, I expect we won't see a resurgence in spending until household debt reaches 1978 levels. And we might need more stringent usury laws to get there.
Executive compensation is inversely proportional to morality and ethics.

Maximum jobs, not maximum profits.

There is another potential threat to any recovery.

Commodity prices particularly oil/gas prices. Average gas prices are heading north of $2.30. Corn and soy beans are increasing to which will obviously translate into higher food prices.

OIl is the wild card

Every time it looks like recovery is around the corner, speculators drive up the price of Oil. Some of this is undoubtedly seasonal and will turn around after July, and expecting prices to remain at $40/barrel was unrealistic. Still, any move by Oil back to $80 will strangle any incipient recovery in its infancy.

gas price spike

In something like two weeks gas prices have gone up about 30 cents/gal. I have a funny feeling we have a "blip on the screen" in terms of a real recovery and my suspicion is because this time, the U.S. just plain is tapped out and a "jobless" recovery is going to have true macro economic implications, i.e. turning into the 2nd or 3rd tsunami wave.