Friday, February 5, 2010

Weekly Indicators: Blizzard edition

- by New Deal democrat

I'll post these over the weekend as an update here, so if you are in an area that will be experiencing the usual lousy winter weather, you can click on over and warm up with a few timely statistical items.
UPDATE: Here are the weekly high-frequency indicators...

ICSC same store sales were reported up +0.1% from the week before, and only +0.4% YoY.

Similarly, Shoppertrak reported YoY "retail sales slipped 4.5 percent for the week ending January 30 while sales fell 6.5 percent versus the previous week ending January 23."

Oddly, although neither Shoppertrak nor the ICSC had sales in January at any time increasing YoY more than inflation -- and indeed generally less, for the month, the report was very positive:

While typically the lightest month of the year in terms of volume, and
no doubt in large part due to extremely easy comparisons to a year ago,
January's strong performance nonetheless suggests retailers might have
finally turned the corner. Preliminary results show total sales
increased 5.6% from a year ago to $26.6 billion for the 32 retailers we
track, while same-store sales were up 3.3%. This is the fifth straight
gain after 12 consecutive months of declines, and the best showing
since April 2008.

Auto sales for January were down from December (not unexpected given seasonality) at 10.8M annualized sales, but up more than 10% over a horrible January 2009.

Railfax reported cyclical traffic up ~15% from a year ago, an excellent sign of economic growth. Intermodal and total traffic loads were also up. Baseline traffic was still slightly behind last year.

The BLS reported initial jobless claims of 480,000 for the last week of January, in a tight range with the 472,000 and 479,000 of the two prior weeks. It is clear that the readings in the 430,000-440,000 range in late December and early January were due to over-generous seasonal adjustments. For an improved jobs outlook, we need this number to start to decline again in the next few weeks.

The E.I.A. reported gasoline usage slightly down YoY for second straight week. Gasoline cost $2.66/gallon, down slightly from recent highs. Oil ended the week at $71.89. As you recall, the energy prices are my main concern for job and economic growth later in the year, so this decline is a welcome sign, even if some of it is due to dollar gains due to European woes.

Finally, The Daily Treasury Statement for Feb. 4 showed $36.2B in withholding taxes paid vs. $44.9B 4 days into February last year. The month of January ended with $140.4B paid vs. $151.8B a year ago, a decrease of (-6.7%). I continue to believe that the seasonally adjusted low for this recession was probably in October, although it is disconcerting to see a YoY GDP gain, however slight, coupled with a decrease in withholding taxes for jobs this large.

Aside from watching to see if initial jobless claims start to decline again or not, this week will be most notable for January retail sales. Seasonal adjustments will most likely once again determine if the data reported above is actually "good" or "bad."