Friday, November 29, 2013

Sluggish Retail

Last year, at this time, I published a graphic showing the monthly retail sales of General Merchandise Stores—by way of illustrating the problems faced by retail trade—yes, even in this, the biggest, selling season of the year (link).

I thought that I would show an updated version of that chart. Here it is:


Last year I only had a few early months of 2012 to show. This time I show all of 2012 as well as results for 2013 through September.

Note particularly that these stores did better than in the earlier year in 2010, 2011, and in 2012. But when we look at 2013, the values achieved in that year fall right at, below, or slightly above the sales performance in 2012 all depending on the month. You might say that no real growth is showing at all. This explains the hysteria behind the Black Friday sales campaigns that I noted in the last post.

To illustrate 2012 and 2013 performance more sharply, herewith a bar graph, by month, of sales up to September. I have include two trend lines. The top line represents 2012, the lower line 2013. Note that trends in 2013 are lower—suggesting, if things continue in the same way for the rest of 2013, that this year will come in worse than last. Not the time to be in the retail business nowadays, as I heard a fellow analyst (and family member) say just yesterday. No. And these days the reliable alternative occupation, somewhere in Health Care, also looks rather dicey…


The data used in this analysis come from the U.S. Bureau of the Census, here, showing various sources of retail data.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Danse Macabre

I had an occasion Thanksgiving last to mark this occasion with an advertisement from Kohl’s. The ad was printed on the plastic sleeve that brought our Thursday edition of the Detroit News. That edition  has been, and remains to this day, by far the thickest, a kind of desperate package of retailer anxiety. Well, it has happened again. Herewith a picture of the 2013 Kohl’s ad:


Nothing like maintaining a tradition, don’t you know. The main difference between the 2012 and the 2013 ad? In 2012 Kohl’s doors opened at midnight on Thanksgiving; this year they will open four hours earlier.

Now I’m only singling out Kohl’s here because of its prominent self-display, for the second Thanksgiving running, looking much the same. But the rest of the paper this year, like last, shows the hysterical anxieties of the retail sector . Paging through the paper today, a single thought, in German at that, rose up in my mind: Totentanz—the Dance of the Dead; the French version produces the nicest headline.

Let us see now. This is the fourth year of our so-called recovery. By recovery our retail sector probably imagines the return of frantic shopping growing at more and more intense rates every year. The public, instead, is holding back. The Spirit of Consumption seems to have fled permanently. To be sure retail sales grew—in 2010, more in 2011, and more again in 2012; the growth, however has been sluggish. The flavor, smell, and rhythm of this growth has not been right, somehow. Is a really big change underway? Is the world recovering from many decades of madness? If so, very major changes in retailing are indeed unfolding in slow motion still and the hysterical danse macabre is thereby explained.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Employment Update: October 2013

Employment data for October 2013 are somewhat ambiguous. A total of 204,000 jobs had been added to the economy, significantly higher than the 148,000 jobs reported for September 2013 last month. But, as usually, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which reports these data monthly (the press release is here), revised September numbers upward by 60,000 jobs. September results, therefore, at 208,000, were actually better, by a hair, than October results. And for all we know, October results may also be revised next month. We’ll see. Tracking these numbers requires a certain amount of patience before real trends become believable.

Herewith the updated chart:


This year I have been publishing projections of year-to-date numbers out for the total year. Last month and the month before, the annual projections were under-performing 2012. This month’s data show a positive change. It now looks like 2013 will produce a total gain in jobs of 2.236 million, better than the economy managed to do each year in the 2010-2012 period. The graphic showing annual data and the 2013 projection follows:


At the same time, what with nearly four years of recovery behind us, we’ve only recovered 83.4 percent of the jobs lost in the 2008 and 2009 period. At this month’s rate of adding to jobs, we’ll have to wait almost seven months more before we have achieved the employment level we enjoyed in December 2007.