March retail sales were a blowout compared with last year (a very easy comparison):
ICSC, Retail Forward, Retail Metrics and RetailSails have all crunched the numbers from the publicly-traded retailers that report same-stores sales and the figures show that the post-holiday shopping period went well for most firms. Retail Forward and RetailSails recorded the gain as 9.2 percent. ICSC said sales rose 9.0 percent. Retail Metrics said same-store sales rose 8.7 percent.
The ISM Non-Manufacturing Index rose from 53.0 to 55.4 in March, and every component with the exception of supplier deliveries also rose. Neew orders in particular rose to 62.3, a very strong showing. The Employment component also rose to 49.8, meaning very slight contraction. The trend is very positive, however, as the percentage of firms planning to hire increases every month (16% in March) and the percentage planning to lay off workers decreases each month (19% in March).
The wholesale inventory to sales ratio declined ever so slightly. This ratio is still at a very low, i.e., tight, level.
Turning to the high frequency weekly numbers ...
The ICSC reported that seasonally adjusted weekly same store sales we up 4.7% YoY and up 2.1% from the previous week. Some of this was due to the change in the week of the easter holiday this year vs. last. ShopperTrak reported that sales "increased for the seventh consecutive week, rising a strong 15.6% compared to a year ago, while sales rose 15.1% on a week-over-week basis."
The E.I.A. reported that gasoline cost $2.80 a gallon. Oil was near $85/barrel late in the week. Usage for last week slightly above last year, as was the 4 week average. In general, however, for the last month usage has been approximately equal to that of 2009. Oil moved above $85 a barrel for most of the week. While Oil futures remained in contango (prices rising as we go further out into the future, prices do not reach $90 until the December 2011 contract, and the 2018 contract sells for $95.08. This suggests to me that the futures market believes that higher prices now would not be sustainable.
The BLS reported that new jobless claims were only 460,000, the highest number in six weeks. Despite some pessimism from the usual sources, the 4 week average only moved up to its second lowest reading in over 18 months.
Railfax again showed another strong week in cyclical goods, although intramodal loads, typically imports, slowed, making for a sideways overall reading.