Today the Census Bureau posted its Advance Monthly Retail Sales and Food Services Report for June 2010.
The U.S. Census Bureau announced today that advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for June, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $360.2 billion, a decrease of 0.5 percent from the previous month, but 4.8 percent above June 2009.
Total sales for the April through June 2010 period were up 6.8 percent from the same period a year ago. The April to May 2010 percent change was revised from -1.2 percent to -1.1 percent.
Retail trade sales were down 0.6 percent from May 2010, but 5.0 percent above last year. Nonstore retailers sales were up 12.1 percent from June 2009 and gasoline stations sales were up 8.8 percent from last year.
The only believable number in the report is gasoline sales. Otherwise the problem is in Census Bureau methodology.
The advance estimates are based on a subsample of the Census Bureau’s full retail and food services sample. A stratified random sampling method is used to select approximately 5,000 retail and food services firms whose sales are then weighted and benchmarked to represent the complete universe of over three million retail and food services firms. Responding firms account for approximately 65% of the MARTS dollar volume estimate.
The methodology misses stores that went out of business and have no retail sales. Circuit City is a prime example but also note that thousands of small strip mall stores are now shuttered as well. Some of that volume went to the surveyed stores making it appear sales went up.
The only accurate way of computing retail sales is to look at state sales tax data. Even then, tax data can be misleading because one needs to factor in changes in tax policy, notably states increasing sales tax rates.
For example, a rise in the sales tax rate from 7% to 8% would result in a 14% increase in sales tax collections (all other things being equal).
The Rockefeller Institute reports “The growth in state tax revenues is not an indication of broad state fiscal recovery, but is mostly driven by legislated changes [massive tax increases] in two states — California and New York.”
Please see Rockefeller Institute Confirms Rising Retail Sales a Mirage for details.
I also addressed the issue of retail sales last Friday in Did Retail Sales Rise or Did Tax Rates Go Up?.
“Retail sales have not risen year-over-year as most people think, rather, collections are up because states have increased sales taxes and in regards to income tax, have sped up collections.”
I am not aware of any major gas stations going out of business, so the Census estimates for gasoline are likely reasonably accurate. Thus, the reality is spending is up on gasoline and down on everything else (in aggregate).
Factoring in Online Sales
One more point. Online sales have likely hurt state revenues. However online sales are approximately 5% of total retail sales. Assuming the census bureau is accurate in that “Nonstore retailers sales were up 12.1 percent” the math is simple. 5% of 12% is .60%. That does not significantly change the math on state sales tax collections.
The rest of the Census report regarding retail sales is fictional nonsense.
Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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