Monthly sales volumes from individual department, chain, discount, and apparel stores are usually reported on the first Thursday of each month. Chain store sales correspond with roughly 10 percent of retail sales. Chain store sales are an indicator of retail sales and consumer spending trends.
Consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of the economy, so if you know what consumers are up to, you'll have a pretty good handle on where the economy is headed. Needless to say, that's a big advantage for investors.
The pattern in consumer spending is often the foremost influence on stock and bond markets. For stocks, strong economic growth translates to healthy corporate profits and higher stock prices. For bonds, the focus is whether economic growth goes overboard and leads to inflation. Ideally, the economy walks that fine line between strong growth and excessive (inflationary) growth. This balance was achieved through much of the nineties. For this reason alone, investors in the stock and bond markets enjoyed huge gains during the bull market of the 1990s. Spending at major retail chains did slow down in tandem with the equity market in 2000 and during the 2001 recession. Sales weakened again in 2008 due to the credit crunch and recession.
Chain store sales not only give you a sense of the big picture, but also the trends among individual retailers and different store categories. Perhaps the discount chains such as Target and Wal-Mart are doing well, but the high-end department stores such as Tiffany's are lagging. Maybe apparel specialty retailers are showing exceptional growth. These trends from the monthly chain store data can help you spot specific investment opportunities, without having to wait for the quarterly or annual reports.
Just a few words of caution. Sales are reported as a change from the same month, a year ago. It is important to know how strong sales actually were a year ago to make sense of this year's sales. In addition, sales are usually reported for "comparable stores" in case of company mergers.
Individual department, chain, discount, and apparel stores.
Generally first Thursday of the month.
Data are for the previous month. Data for June are released in July.
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