Thursday, March 12, 2009

Retail Sales and Weekly Unemployment Data - Keep your eye on the debt ball...

Much was made in the media this morning of the retail sales numbers, it would seem that losing ground is now a good thing. But the markets are not about the data releases per se, they are about expectations and as those expectations change the markets move. Expecting and extrapolating “signs of life” into the future is exactly the fuel that’s needed to get the next decline, not the next rally.

Yes, Spring is right around the corner, people start to feel optimistic this time of year, the flowers will be out soon.

Funny that they always want to exclude the lagers, in this case autos, but they want to include the ones the zoom when it favors their bullish tint, in this case fuel. But when it comes to inflation, it’s always ex-fuel. These are the types of games that just distort people’s perceptions and make for misallocated money. How if we just go with the total and compare it to last year? It was down, but better than expected – I don’t see a strengthening trend that’s long enough to follow yet.
Signs of life at the store

Latest government report shows retail sales fell much less than expected in February, and surprisingly strong January sales were revised even higher.

By Parija B. Kavilanz, senior writer

NEW YORK ( -- U.S. store sales showed a smaller-than-expected decline in February after an unexpected surge in January that was bigger than originally reported, according to a government report Thursday.

The Commerce Department said total retail sales fell 0.1% last month, compared with January's revised increase of 1.8%. January's increase was originally reported at 1%.
Economists surveyed by had been expecting a decrease of 0.5% for February.

"It looks to us like little more than a temporary, though welcome, rebound," he said.

The overall monthly sales number was dragged down by a 4.9% drop in auto sales and a 4.3% decline in sales of auto parts.

Sales excluding autos and auto parts increased 0.7%, compared to a revised 1.6% rise in January. The measure had originally shown a 0.9% increase for January.

Economists had forecast a decrease of 0.1% for February sales, excluding auto purchases, according to

The government report showed sales rose across retail categories, including a 2.8% gain clothing purchases, a 0.7% increases in furniture sales and a 1.1% increase in purchases at department stores.

Gasoline station sales jumped 3.4%, boosted by rising gas prices at the pump.
Continuing claims for unemployment hit another new record last week. The market is treating this as a lagging indicator and “looking past it.” The problem with that theory is that if conditions do not improve unemployment adds to the negative spiral.
Record number of Americans on unemployment

Continuing jobless claims spike to 5.3 million. Weekly jobless claims rise to 654,000.

By Julianne Pepitone, contributing writer

NEW YORK ( -- The number of Americans filing initial claims for unemployment insurance rose last week, with the number of people collecting benefits overall rising to a record 5.3 million, according to a government report released Thursday.

In the week ended March 7, 654,000 Americans filed initial jobless claims, up from a revised 645,000 the previous week.

Economists expected 644,000 new claims, according to a consensus survey by The 4-week moving average for weekly filings was 650,000, up 6,750 from the previous week's revised average.

"We think claims are still nowhere near their peak, which could well be close to a million," said Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist with High Frequency Economics, in a research note.

The steady increase suggests that the rate of decline is likely to accelerate, Shepherdson said.

Continuing claims: In a sign that more jobless Americans are having trouble finding work, 5,317,000 continued filing for unemployment insurance in the week ended Feb. 28. That's an increase of 193,000 from the revised number from the previous week.

It was the highest level since record-keeping began in 1967. Continuing claims have set a new record for six out of the last seven weeks. The 4-week moving average was 5,139,750, an increase of 124,250.

Initial claims spiked to a 26-year high two weeks ago, reaching 670,000 for the week ended Feb. 21.

The insured unemployment rate is 4%, up 0.2 percentage point from the previous week's unrevised rate.

Highs and lows: Initial claims rose by more than 1,000 in 12 states in the week ended Feb. 28, the most recent state-by-state data available.

The largest increases were in New York, with 16,481; California, at 7,765; Oregon, at 4,001; Georgia, with 3,313; and Wisconsin, 3,006. Those spikes were likely due to layoffs in the construction, trade and manufacturing industries, among others, the report said.

By contrast, five states - Missouri, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Florida, and New Mexico - saw claims decrease by more than 1,000.

Stimulus: The stimulus bill that President Obama signed into law has several provisions that help those living on unemployment benefits.

The weekly unemployment benefit has temporarily increased by $25 on top in addition to the about $300 jobless workers currently receive now. Also, the first $2,400 of benefits in 2009 will be exempt from federal income taxes.
Watching markets rally on mixed news is where it really helps to have a ball to keep focused on. That ball is debt. Keep staring at it, it will help you filter through the noise and B.S. - Are debt levels decreasing? Are salaries and incomes increasing? Remember that what really matters in this entire crisis is income to service debt. That relationship needs to change and adding new debt only makes that relationship worse – everything else, like bank CEO’s jawboning their profitable spreads does not help the underlying condition of debt.

The real trick to the markets is not just playing other people's expectations. You must know where reality is in relation to those expectations. Keeping your eye on the debt ball will help to filter through the noise.