Is the economy poised for a recovery, as the stock market seems to expect? Or are we in for another few more quarters of recession and/or slow growth? In this week's letter we take a look at consumer spending, inflation, and other data to see if we can find a clue or two to give us an idea of the direction of the economy. There is a lot of data, so let's jump right in. (Media note: Right now I am slated to be on Kudlow and Company next Wednesday.)
Many commentators, looking for a bullish lifeline, have pointed to the fact that retail sales grew in April by 1.8% over this time last year. But that is truly grasping at straws. Just last November they were growing at 6% year over year and have been dropping relentlessly for the last six months. And as good friend and data maven Greg Weldon points out, retail sales last November were 1.3% over inflation and now are a negative 2.1% below inflation. Retail sales are clearly headed down. (www.weldononline.com, a must-read for those who need in-depth analysis of all things and data economic)
But there was growth. Gasoline sales were up 16.3%. And food sales were up 6.1%. 77% of the increase in retail sales this year has been from increases in food and gas sales. If you take out food and gas, retail sales are down by about 2% in the last three months.