Friday, January 13, 2012

Retail Wrap-Up: 2011

The U.S. Bureau of the Census released data December 2011 retail sales yesterday. Thus we have a complete picture. In a nutshell, 2011 was a pretty good year. To get a good overview of the recent downturn of the economy and our slow recovery from it, I present first a graphic showing retail sales by month, but excluding automobiles, for the years 2007 through 2011.


This is an interesting picture. What it shows is that 2009 and 2010 were “lost years,” as it were. 2009 produced results lower than 2007; 2010 underperformed 2008 until September—when, in 2008, people finally began to reflect in their purchases the facts on the ground, namely that the economy was tanking.

In 2007 December sales were lower than November sales, that decline matched, and in spades, the year after. In the entire period 1992-2010, December sales exceeded November sales by about a hair in every year except three: 2005, 2007, and 2009. The fact that 2011 also lagged its own November sales tells me that public confidence has still not fully recovered. The media reported a 0.1 percent gain, but here I am excluding autos. And 2011 December sales ($328.7 billion) were lower than November’s ($329.4 billion), a 0.21 percent drop.

Next a look at a subcategory, General Merchandise Stores. Here is a graphic on just November and December sales for the same years:


The general pattern is very similar, but the drop-off from November to December was larger. It fell by 0.82 percent. Could that difference be accounted for, in part, by shifts from brick-and-mortar to Internet purchasing? Based on our own family’s experience, the answer seems to be yes.

I obtained the data shown using a Bureau of the Census Internet data server (link).

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