Unreliable retail numbers

Karl Denninger explains why the “positive” retail numbers reported today are, in fact, nothing of the kind:

We start with one store in the world that has net sales of “100”.

Store #2 opens with sales of 10. Half of that is new activity, half comes from Store #1. First month shows a sales report of “95”, a decrease. But in the next month Store #2’s numbers come online, the “95” is revised to the (true) 105, and Store #2s numbers (which have climbed to 60, while Store #1 has lost share and now also has an amount of 60) are all reportable. Net activity is now accurate at 120 and the previous month is revised to the (true) net 105.

Store #1 and #2 both are operating with sales of 60. Store #2 fails, and half of its business goes to Store #1. In the month it fails Store #1 shows an increase and Store #2’s numbers are DROPPED ENTIRELY, since it did not report. This is not revised. We now report a “50% increase” in retail activity, which is total crap – we really had a 25% net decrease for the current month. But the revision to the previous month does get posted, and depresses the previous month’s numbers.

Did this just happen?

The August to September 2009 percent change was revised from -1.5 percent (±0.5%) to -2.3 percent (±0.3%).

Oh, it did! Now we know where the revision to the previous month came from – stores closed in the present month and their sales loss was intentionally dropped from the current month.

Of course, it’s relatively easy to tell if the retail sales numbers are cooked or not. If the state sales tax numbers are falling while “retail sales” are increasing, then it’s obvious that the model is an inherently unreliable one.