Your Guide to Trading the U.S. Retail Sales Report

Gather ’round, ladies and gents! The release of the April 2012 U.S. retail sales report is just around the corner. Are you prepared for this potential market-mover?

As I’ve mentioned countless times in the past, this release is one of the most anticipated U.S. market events because it provides us with an early preview of consumer spending data. It’s like a trailer to a movie: it may not give you all the details, but it gives you just enough info (the juicy bits!) so you know what to expect from the final product.

Of course, you’re probably already aware that consumer spending is a hotly tracked component of GDP because it accounts for about 70% of the U.S.’s total output. But did you know that the U.S. has also become increasingly dependent on it for growth?

Take a look at the chart below to see what I mean:

U.S. GDP Components

Over the past 12 months, consumer spending has steadily grown to become the biggest contributor to GDP growth. In Q2 2011, it boosted output by just 0.49%. But last quarter, it lifted GDP growth by a solid 2.04%!

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to see that consumer spending has been enjoying a nice little uptrend over the past year. But is this surge sustainable? What can we expect from this Tuesday’s retail sales release?

If forecasts are to be believed, both the headline and core retail sales figure will show a modest 0.2% month-on-month uptick for the month of April, which is a major downgrade from the 0.8% increases that we saw in March. But I did some research of my own, and judging from the less-than-spectacular stats compiled by Thomson Reuters, we may be in for lower figures.

According to the Thomson Reuters same-store sales index, the strong spending that we saw in March (which saw a 4.3% year-on-year increase in retail sales) didn’t carry over into April.

April only posted a year-on-year growth in same-store sales of 0.8%, well below forecasts which called for a 1.5% rise. They say that the early celebration of Easter, unusually cold weather, high gas prices, and weak job market all played a role in keeping sales down last month.

This information, along with knowledge of how the markets usually react to U.S. retail sales data, will help guide is in trading this important report.

As I pointed out in a previous article, we usually see a positive correlation between the core retail sales figure and dollar price action. But you should also know that there are times when market activity is risk sentiment-dictated.

In such times, it isn’t unusual to see a negative correlation between U.S. economic data and dollar price action. In other words, disappointing results can lead to a dollar rally on risk aversion, while positive results can lead to a dollar sell-off on risk taking. Just take a look at last week’s weak NFP results and how it led to a strong dollar bull run!

Taking into account the current market environment (which hasn’t exactly been risk-friendly), we have to consider the possibility that the market’s reaction may depend more on prevailing risk sentiment. With the whole world still feeling jittery over political developments in the euro zone, a weak showing from the U.S. retail sales report could trigger another round of risk aversion.

But to be honest, at this point in time, it’s really hard to tell how the markets will react. It’s best to consider all possible scenarios and be ready for whatever may happen. You don’t wanna get caught unprepared when the report comes out at 12:30 pm GMT on Tuesday, do ya?

2 comments

  1. Edison

     I read every one of his writings, I also wish there was a blog for the study of “sentiment analysis”

    Reply
  2. Robin Widdows

    Just proves to me how bad the US economy is when you have to rely on consumer spending to raise GDP. But since the economy needs to grow even larger than before just to service the debt, know wonder why people are encouraged to spend. You need to save, not spend. The US is drunk on consumerism. Exports in Q1/12 is zilch, will all end in tears

    Reply

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