In terms of meaningful economic reporting, the financial markets continue to be flying blind, at the moment. Economic data of questionable significance continue to flow from the government’s statistical bureaus, including this morning’s (March 11th) report of February retail sales. There will be a full review of the economic outlook in the Hyperinflation update, and the constant-dollar February retail sales will be assessed in the March 17th Commentary, following the CPI release.
On its surface, the February retail sales report was positive on a nominal (not-adjusted for inflation) basis, as well as likely in real (inflation-adjusted) terms. The reporting-quality problems remain in unstable monthly seasonal-factor adjustments. Seasonal patterns have been warped by the depth and duration of an economic downturn that is unprecedented in the post-World War II era of modern economic reporting. The retail data will be revised in a pending annual benchmark revision, scheduled for April 29th.
At that time, retail sales levels and growth of at least the last year should be subject to major downside revisions, showing a weaker economy than has been recognized previously. As with the recent, major downside revisions to payroll employment, and the pending downside revisions to industrial production later in March, the retail sales downgrade will be a precursor to major downside revisions in GDP history of the last several years, which are due for release in late July.
While there also are seasonal-adjustment issues with the trade data, the reported January 2011 deficit has set up a potential dampening of growth to be reported in first-quarter 2011 GDP, at the end of April."