EC Consumers, Producers, And The Unsettled End Of 2020

The months of November and December aren’t always easily comparable year to year when it comes to American shopping habits. For a retailer, these are the big ones. The Christmas shopping season and the amount of spending which takes place during it makes or breaks the typical year (though last year, there was that whole thing in March and April which has had a say in each’s final annual condition).

The calendar being what it is – we’ve never been forced to use the French Revolutionary datebook, thankfully, not yet – there are quirks. Pertaining to US retail sales, the Census Bureau, the government’s agency given the task of keeping track, it really comes down to the number of weekends each way. That final one in November one year could be the first one for December the following year.

This can lead to unusually large discrepancies between unadjusted data and seasonally-adjusted estimates. The latter attempt to make for, in Christmas shopping terms, homogenized calendars – without all the fuss and bother of running amok Jacobins.

With the in-between weekend ending up in December 2020 where it had been included in November 2019, the sales figures skew accordingly. The Census Bureau tells us that, unadjusted, November seemed low and December appeared better (revised 2.00% year-over-year and 4.85%, respectively).

Seasonally-adjusted, neither was particularly good (3.74% and 2.94%, respectively). And if you combine November and December 2020’s unadjusted together, on a holiday basis the two months together were just 3.5% above the same pair in 2019.

Or was that awesome? It’s hard to tell because of the circumstances surrounding last year and its massive economic recession. In any other year, growth rates for holiday shopping down around 3% is cause for recessionary concerns. However, could it be a minor miracle that retail sales are positive at all?

The government would surely like to believe so because, given the employment situation, that Christmas wasn’t a complete wipeout seems like a win for Treasury (the Fed would like to jump on this, too, but any idea of QE’s “V” is long forgotten now). However, concerns rise here, too, given that on a monthly basis retail sales had declined in each of the three months of Q4.

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Disclosure: This material has been distributed for informational purposes only. It is the opinion of the author and should not be considered as investment advice or a recommendation of any ...

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