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Wednesday morning, all eyes will be on the January retail sales report, which will get published at 8:30 AM ET.Economists are expecting a 0.1 per cent gain, and a 0.3 per cent increase excluding autos and gas.
However, no economist is completely married to those forecasts because January sales will be impacted by a number of things, most importantly the unfavorable effect of the payroll tax increase.
As such, some strategists have declared the report the “moment of truth” or “the most important datapoint of the year.”
But from the information we’ve gathered so far, it doesn’t look like the tax hike had a major impact on sales.
Bloomberg's aggregation of same-store sales data accelerated to 5.1% in January from 4.4% in December
'A gain in non-auto, non-gasoline retail sales in this weeks' report for January is being signaled by company data, with the caveat that the number of companies that publicly report results on a monthly basis has been declining,' wrote economist Jim O'Sullivan. 'The Bloomberg aggregation of same-store sales data accelerated to up 5.1% year-over-year in January from 4.4% in December. Moreover, retail sales were strong in January 2012, with the 'control' measure in the retail sales report up 1.0% month-over-month. That makes the acceleration on a year-over-year basis even more impressive.'
Sally Beauty, whose Q1 sales thru January were up 2.8 per cent, reported no impact from payroll taxes.
Still, some remain bearish. Chipotle's management is worried about the combination of food food costs and the payroll tax.
'As we hit the debt ceiling crisis and you know how people are feeling with their payroll tax increasing we'd rather be more patient, we rather see what happens with the economy what happens with our transaction trend, and if we are little late to the game in raising prices, that's OK because as soon as you raise prices the margin of our model bounce right back to where they can and should be on a going forward basis.'
UBS economists are more bearish than the consensus, forecasting a 0.1 per cent decline in retail sales..
'We forecast a small decline in headline retail sales in January, but core measures (ex autos, gasoline, and building materials) are likely to show continued decent consumer spending momentum. Meanwhile, industrial production probably stalled in January with weakness in manufacturing offset by mining and utilities. We await some detail on January vehicle production and may revise our industrial production forecast early in the week.'
'So why the apparent rise in spending in January?' asks economist Jim O'Sullivan rhetorically. 'In part, the pattern reflects lags, with consumers adjusting their spending over several months. The impact on spending was not immediately obvious when payroll taxes were cut two years ago, either. In part, it reflects the vagaries of January data, with spending down sharply from December before seasonal adjustment. Also, some of the spending in January is a product of gift cards purchased and received in December. However, part of the pattern likely also reflects the spending power being generated by an increasingly healthy labour market recovery.'