Retail Sales Back, But Not Consumers

The Mortgage Corner

It turns out consumers decided to shop again in July, as retail sales surged in all categories. This includes online sales these days, as retailers adapt to the new reality that one large store size doesn’t fit all. But it may be a one-time surge, as wages are barely rising above inflation, and major brick and mortar stores are disappearing, while factory discount outlets thrive.

Nonstore retailers, vehicle dealers, building materials stores lead the report — all major categories. Secondary readings are all strong: up 0.5 percent ex-autos, up 0.5 percent ex-autos ex-gas, and up 0.6 percent for the control group. Annual sales had risen above 5 percent in January, then declined until this month. So it’s hard to know if consumers in fact feel more prosperous.

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Graph: Econoday

Target, for instance is opening more than 100 ‘small-store’ outlets near universities and colleges that was announced at their second quarter earnings call. Target Chief Executive Brian Cornell said the retailer would be nearly doubling the number of small-format stores it has this year, with the ultimate goal of having more than 100 open for business over a three-year period. The plan is to have 30 in 2017, said Chief Operating Officer John Mulligan, with nine opening in July and four opening in the first quarter.

“While we’ve only been open a few weeks, our July openers have been particularly strong out of the gate and as Brian highlighted, the guest response has been phenomenal,” Mulligan said on the Wednesday call, according to a FactSet transcript. “For the seven smallest format stores that have been open for more than a year, we’re continuing to see sales productivity more than double the company average and these stores have been delivering high-single-digit comp increases so far in 2017.”

We reported earlier that most households aren’t earning enough income to do more than pay their bills, such is the current record income inequality. The monthly reading for this measure did finally show some life in the prior week’s employment report with an unadjusted 0.3 percent gain, but it will take a continued run of strength to level out the 2-year trend line which remains in a deep downslope, said Econoday.

So we remain doubtful this retail surge can continue given all the actual brick and mortar stores closed or about to close. Brokerage firm Credit Suisse said in a research report released earlier this month that it’s possible more than 8,600 brick-and-mortar stores will close their doors in 2017.

For comparison, the report says 2,056 stores closed down in 2016 and 5,077 were shuttered in 2015. The worst year on record is 2008, when 6,163 stores shut down.

Why? Is it only Amazon online shopping? No, because consumer incomes are barely rising, as I said, they look for discounts everywhere, and brick and mortar stores with their higher overhead, can’t cut prices as much, and can’t offer the variety that Amazon offers.

Now we hear that Amazon also wants to compete on the ground. What next? It will probably be more like an Apple store that samples its services and directs customers to its online warehouses, also springing up everywhere. Who can match that kind of cost-cutting when workers’ stagnant wages and salaries mean they will continue to discount shop for bargains.

Guess what is missing that would boost economic growth? Infrastructure spending, and now that Big Business has walked away from President Trump’s business councils, and is dissing Senate Republican leaders, good luck on getting anything done!

Harlan Green © 2017

Follow Harlan Green on Twitter: https://twitter.com/HarlanGreen

About populareconomicsblog

Harlan Green is editor/publisher of PopularEconomics.com, and content provider of 3 weekly columns to various blogs--Popular Economics Weekly and The Huffington Post
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