Retail sales fall in May

posted at 9:21 am on June 13, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

In the latest sign that we’re heading into a third straight Wreckovery Summer, retail sales fell in May by 0.2%, and the previously-announced 0.1% gain in April got revised downward to a 0.2% drop in that month, as well.  But don’t worry — the private sector is doing fine:

The U.S. Census Bureau announced today that advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for May, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $404.6 billion, a decrease of 0.2 percent (±0.5%)* from the previous month, but 5.3 percent (±0.7%) above May 2011. Total sales for the March through May 2012 period were up 5.7 percent (±0.5%) from the same period a year ago. The March to April 2012 percent change was revised from 0.1 percent (±0.5)* to -0.2 percent (±0.2%)*.

Retail trade sales were down 0.2 percent (±0.5%)* from April 2012, but 5.0 percent (±0.7%) above last year. Nonstore retailers sales were up 12.4 percent (±3.1%) from May 2011 and motor vehicles and parts dealers were up 10.0 percent (±2.1%) from last year.

Reuters reported the results, but only at the bottom of an article that leads with falling fuel prices as a sign that inflation is “easing”:

U.S. producer prices fell sharply in May and retail sales posted their biggest decline in two years amid falling energy prices, a sign of easing inflation pressures that could give the Federal Reserve more room to help the economy should growth weaken.

Producer prices skidded as energy costs dropped the most in over three years.

The Labor Department said on Wednesday its seasonally adjusted producer price index dropped 1 percent last month.

The drop was mostly due to a 4.3 percent decline in energy prices, the biggest drop since March 2009. Europe’s debt crisis is threatening global economic growth, pushing oil prices lower.

Commodity prices decline for two reasons — increased production or decreased demand.  Oil prices have been falling over the last few weeks because of declining demand.  That’s not a good sign; it’s an indicator that we may be heading toward another recession.  While falling prices benefit consumers, consumers seem unwilling to take advantage of the opportunity, choosing to shield their disposable income ahead of a perceived storm.

That explains the other report from Reuters, this time from their poll on the US presidential election.  Obama’s overall job approval rating has declined over the last month, but not as fast as his approval rating on the economy, and Mitt Romney is gaining on him:

President Barack Obama’s approval ratings have dipped to their lowest level since January on deep economic worries, wiping out most of his lead in the White House race over Republican rival Mitt Romney, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed on Tuesday.

The percentage of Americans who approve of Obama’s job performance dropped from 50 a month ago to 47, matching his mark in early January. The number who think the country is on the wrong track rose 6 percentage points in a month to 63 percent.

The doubts about Obama’s leadership helped Romney pull to within 1 point of the Democratic president in the White House race – 45 percent to 44 percent – among registered voters with less than five months to go before the November 6 election. Obama led by 7 points a month ago.

Reuters doesn’t provide a link to their data, so it’s impossible to analyze how accurate their sample might be.  It’s worth noting that Obama’s 7-point lead last month was an outlier even at that time.  If Reuters has this as a dead heat, assuming that their sampling splits haven’t changed, it’s safe to say that Romney’s doing pretty well while Obama fumbles his way through another Wreckovery Summer.

Update: Thanks to Zybalto in the comments, I have the Reuters sample data — and it’s pretty intriguing.  The D/R/I in this poll before assigning leaners is 31/22/47; after leaners, 47/38/15.  Both of these are absurd models in any election year.  The 2008 model was 39/32/29, and 2010′s 35/35/30.  Assigning a D+9 in 2012 is laughable, and it does indeed indicate to me that Romney may already have a small lead in a properly-modeled electorate.


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