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Economy in Brief

U.S. Retail Sales Fall Due To Lower Autos, Non-auto Strong
by Tom Moeller February 12, 2004

Retail sales fell 0.3% last month versus the Consensus expectation for a 0.1% gain. The previously reported 0.5% rise in December sales was revised down to a 0.2% increase.

Motor vehicle dealers' sales fell 3.9% m/m as unit sales of light vehicles dropped 9.1% to 16.13M. Dealers' sales of motor vehicles in December were revised down to a 0.2% gain versus the advance report of a 1.6% m/m rise.

Retail sales excluding motor vehicles & parts dealers popped 0.9% last month and the 0.1% December gain was revised to 0.2%. Consensus expectations had been for a 0.4% rise in January.

Clothing and accessory store sales surged 2.9% (6.7% y/y) following a downwardly revised 0.2% decline in December. Sales at general merchandise stores jumped 1.0% (6.9% y/y) after an unrevised 0.3% December gain.Sales of furniture/home furnishings & electronics/appliances slipped 0.4% (+8.2% y/y) and the December gain also was revised down to just 0.1%.

Sales of non-store retailers fell 0.3% (+7.0% y/y). The advance report of a 2.1% December surge was tempered to a 0.9% rise.

Sales of building materials fell 0.9% (8.9% y/y) following a 0.6% December gain, revised from a 0.3% decline reported initially.

  Jan Dec Y/Y 2003 2002 2001
Retail Sales & Food Services -0.3% 0.2% 5.0% 5.6% 3.0% 2.9%
  Excluding Autos 0.9% 0.2% 6.6% 5.4% 3.6% 2.9%
Initial Claims for Jobless Insurance Up Again
by Tom Moeller February 12, 2004

Initial claims for jobless insurance rose by 6,000 (1.7%) to 363,000 last week. It was the second consecutive weekly rise. The prior week's level was little revised. Consensus expectations had been for claims of 350,000.

The four-week moving average of initial claims rose to 350,500 (-9.9% y/y).

Continuing claims for unemployment insurance fell 23,000 w/w and the prior week's level was revised down.

The insured rate of unemployment fell to 2.4%.

Unemployment Insurance (000s) 02/07/04 01/31/04 Y/Y 2003 2002 2001
Initial Claims 363.0 357.0 -4.0% 403 404 406
Continuing Claims -- 3,083 -6.9% 3,535 3,575 3,022
U.S. Business Inventories Rose
by Tom Moeller February 12, 2004

Total business inventories rose in December for the fourth consecutive month. The 0.3% rise was slightly higher than Consensus expectations for a 0.2% increase.

During the last ten years there has been a 46% correlation between the three month change in business inventories and the three month change in US factory production.

Retail inventories rose 0.3% in December but recent strong gains in inventories of motor vehicles & parts moderated to just 0.1% (8.2% y/y).

Accumulation of retail inventories less autos continued at the reasonably strong pace of the last several months, up 0.4%. Inventories at general merchandise stores surged 1.1% (+2.0% y/y). Inventories of furniture rose a firm 0.6% (8.4% y/y). Apparel inventories eked out a 0.1% gain that followed a 0.9% November jump (+2.0% y/y).

Overall business sales jumped 0.9% (7.0% y/y) on the strength of a 1.5% (7.2% y/y) gain in factory shipments and a 1.0% (8.0% y/y) surge in wholesale sales.

The inventory-to-sales ratio fell to a new record low of 1.34.

Business Inventories Dec Nov Y/Y 2003 2002 2001
Total 0.3% 0.4% 1.9% 1.9% 2.1% -4.7%
  Retail 0.3% 0.8% 5.0% 5.0% 7.5% -2.9%
    Retail excl. Autos 0.4% 0.6% 3.4% 3.4% 2.4% -1.2%
  Wholesale 0.6% 0.5% 2.0% 2.0% 0.4% -4.9%
  Manufacturing -0.0% -0.1% -1.4% -1.4% -1.8% -6.1%
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