September 14, 2006

What Is the Deal with the Reporting on August Retail Sales?

The AP Says Retail Sales Stank; Dayton’s Business Paper Says They Were Fine, and That Things are Looking Good.


So, was August a good or poor month for retails sales?

It depends on who you ask. Despite that the fact that everyone is working from virtually the same data, different reports are reaching totally opposite conclusions.

Here’s the beginning of one of several reports with an ominous tone from the Associated Press (negative words in bold):

Retail sales in August posted the weakest showing in two months as worried consumers curbed their spending habits.

The Commerce Department reported that the nation’s retailers saw a tiny 0.2 percent increase last month following a much bigger 1.4 percent rise in July. It was the weakest performance since sales had actually fallen by 0.5 percent in June.

Much of the August weakness reflected a sharp slowdown in auto sales, which edged up just 0.4 percent last month after having surged by 4.3 percent in July.

But here’s a report on national results from The Dayton Business Journal (Note: DBJ is part of American City Business Journals, which is probably publishing a similar report in other cities with ABJ publications). The only difference is that also looked at data from the National Retail Federation that wasn’t much different from what Commerce reported (positive words in bold):

Retail sales surged more than 6 percent nationwide in August, with vacations, back-to-school shopping and clearance sales enticing consumers to part with their cash, according to figures released Thursday.

Industry sales jumped 6.5 percent over the year-ago period and climbed 0.3 percent seasonally adjusted over July’s performance, the National Retail Federation reported. These figures exclude spending for automobiles, gas stations and restaurants.

The U.S. Department of Commerce reported that general retail sales increased 6.7 percent compared with the same month a year ago. On a seasonally adjusted basis, sales increased 0.2 percent compared with July.

Commerce Department figures include autos, gas stations and restaurants.

Industry observers took heart from the numbers and hope it portends good things for the holiday-selling season.

How can this be? Although looking at monthly results is important, the second article covers year-ago comparisons that the AP chose not to report on. 6%-plus year-over-year retail sales increases are way ahead of inflation (to be fair, the Dayton paper should have indicated immediately that the 6% was a year-over-year figure). Since July was so strong, it’s not surprising that there was a bit of a breather in August.

The second report is the better bet. Too bad most people will only see or hear about the first one.


UPDATE: The AP reports are also consistently saying that first-quarter 2006 GDP growth was 5.3%, when it was really 5.6%. The Washington AP bureau has been informed.

Cross-posted at

New York Times Halfway Corrects Wal-Mart Smear

Michelle Malkin has the story.

Here’s the correction.

Here’s what the Business & Media Institute notes that the Times left out:

New York Times reporters Michael Barbaro and Stephanie Strom took a shot at Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) with a September 8 article slamming conservative think tanks for receiving money from the Walton family.

Yet an August 2006 review of IRS records shows that Wal-Mart gives nearly 300 times as much money to liberal think tanks as it does to conservative ones. Barbaro himself also reported that labor unions in 2005 gave about the same amount in one year to one liberal think tank.


UPDATE: Line of the dayTaranto at Best of the Web refers to the New York Times as “a correctional institution.

Bubble, Schmubble (Update)

Yesterday, SOB Alliance charter member Porkopolis, who received long-overdue recognition in USA Today (his follow-up on that piece is here) in a Monday evening article on the blogosphere’s pork-busting efforts, sent me the National Association of Realtors (NAR) press release on their President’s Wednesday testimony at the Senate Banking Committee.

Key excerpts:

Housing prices are expected to continue to have a limited fall throughout 2006, according to testimony submitted by the National Association of Realtors at today’s Senate Banking Committee hearing on the economy. In addition, NAR noted that the sellers’ market is transitioning to a buyers’ market, which can be healthy for some local economies.

….. “Contrary to many reports, there is not a ‘national housing bubble,’” said Stevens. “We were seeing home prices and mortgage debt servicing cost-to-income ratios increase to unhealthy levels in some housing markets, which precipitate an adjustment.” Also contributing to the cooling housing market is an increase in mortgage rates of nearly one point, speculative investors pulling back and first-time buyers being priced out of the market.

Adjustments to the housing market are not unique and can often times be necessary, said Stevens.

Gee, that sounds familiar, though not as wordy. I’m referring to my responses at the link, not the rant in its earlier section from MarketWatch’s Rex Nutting, who (heaven help us) is MarketWatch’s Washington Bureau Chief. Stevens is predicting a one- or two-quarter decline; if he thought it would go longer than that, he either would have told us in his testimony, or it would have been dragged out of him in the follow-up questions.


UPDATE: This article (requires free registration) must have been difficult for our pal Rex Nutting to write — “Weekly mortgage applications up 3.2%”


Previous Posts:

  • Sept. 12 — More Fun with Tom, Rex, and the Housing Market: A Case Study in Business Reporting Bias and Ignorance
  • Sept. 7 — Fun with Tom and Rex: A Discussion of the Housing Market Situation
  • Sept. 6 — Unseen Housing Headline: “Home-Price Growth Returning to Normal”
  • Sept. 6 — Bubble, Schmubble (so far)
  • Aug. 24 — Existing-home Sales “Plunge,” But This Is NOT an “Implosion” (Updated for New-Home Sales)

Amazon’s Unbox Music Service Doesn’t Work with Macs

Filed under: Business Moves,Consumer Outrage,Corporate Outrage — Tom @ 8:09 am

Based on this C-Net review (via Slashdot via Instapundit), that’s just as well. Unlike what Apple announced on Tuesday, Unbox appears to be an intrusive, annoying, stubborn piece of garbage doubling as spyware. Glenn “Instapundit” Reynolds, at his TCS column yesterday, agrees (“Keep Your Grubby Mitts Off My Hard Drive”).

BP CEO Lord John Browne Should Resign, Says Group

Filed under: Business Moves,Corporate Outrage,Environment — Tom @ 8:04 am

It’s hard to disagree. This group’s well-composed letter explains why:

I urge you to resign from your position at BP plc.

Under your leadership and direction, BP is a model of operational negligence exposing the company to costly litigation, regulatory fines and irreparable harm to the company’s reputation.

For example, poor occupational safety procedures resulted in an explosion at your Texas City, TX refinery in March 2005 killing 15 workers and injuring 170 others. In 2006, poor maintenance of a major oil pipeline in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska resulted in a major oil spill forcing the company to shut down the pipeline for inspection.

In addition, BP is under investigation by U.S. regulators for possible market manipulation of propane gas, crude oil and gasoline markets.

Your obsession with the Beyond Petroleum public relations campaign designed to recreate BP as a “green” and “socially responsible” company diverted hundreds of millions of dollars, resources and management time from oil operations to publicity.

While you personally enjoyed celebrity status as a business leader on global warming and a proponent of alternative energy that got your picture in Vanity Fair, your business operations suffered.

Ironically, instead of being a model of environmental stewardship and a socially responsible company, BP is the icon of operational negligence. The hundreds of millions of dollars spent on image building were wasted.

As Group Chief Executive, you are responsible for these operational failures. Your incompetence and the embarrassment you caused your employees and shareholders should result in a prompt resignation.

A comprehensive explanation of why BP is in its current fix is here. If you think Lord Browne’s resignation would be advisable, and especially if you are a BP shareholder, you can use or modify the letter I copied above at the link and send it on to the Free Enterpriser. Or, if you happen to be in England, the mailing address is also at the link.

More companies devoting precious time, attention, and resources to “Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) are likely to see similar scandals and embarrassments. It’s tough enough for management to run a multibillion-dollar enterprise well and to appropriately represent shareholder interests without the distractions of CSR. With CSR, it has to be darned near impossible.

Related Post:

  • September 9 — The Corporate Social Responsibility Appeasers Are Probably Long-Term Market Underperformers

Lance Armstrong Is Right to Be Peeved at the New York Times

Filed under: Biz Weak — Tom @ 7:59 am

Join the club, Lance.

In a story on how two former teammates of Armstrong admitted to drug use in 1999, it took the Times eight paragraphs to tell us: “Both of Armstrong’s former teammates also said they never saw Armstrong take any banned substances.”

One of the riders is retired, and the other, who has a job in cycling, appears not to be racing. Other than to perpetrate a silent smear, why this is even a story?

This Move by The New York Times Looks Like a Cash Scrounge

Filed under: Business Moves — Tom @ 7:54 am

Here’s the Times story. Thomas Lifson at American Thinker sees it as part of a downward spiral. Hard to disagree.

Positivity: Kidnapped Iraqi priest freed in Baghdad

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:01 am

Good news indeed:

Vatican City, Sep. 13, 2006 (CNA) – A young Chaldean priest kidnapped last August 15 in Baghdad was released on Monday. Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Emmanuel Delly confirmed that Father Saad Sirop Hanna “is well, at home and will finally be able to return to his work at the parish in Baghdad.”

Father Hanna was kidnapped in the Iraqi capital after celebrating the feast of the Assumption of Mary. Both Pope Benedict XVI and Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Emmanuel appealed for his immediate release.

“He has been freed and he is well; that is the only thing that matters now,” the patriarch told the MISNA news agency.

He also expressed his joy at the “good news” and thanked “all those who worked to attain the release of Father Hanna.”

Pope Benedict had issued an appeal for the release of the priest in mid-August.

Doesn’t Everyone Have to Give in to China’s Censored News and Information Regimen?

Filed under: Business Moves,Privacy/ID Theft,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 12:09 am

ANSWER: No. EXAMPLE: Wikipedia.


Here’s the story’s first few paras (HT e-mail from Large Bill):

Wikipedia defies China’s censors
Sunday September 10, 2006

The founder of Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia written by its users, has defied the Chinese government by refusing to bow to censorship of politically sensitive entries.

Jimmy Wales, one of the 100 most influential people in the world according to Time magazine, challenged other internet companies, including Google, to justify their claim that they could do more good than harm by co-operating with Beijing.

Wikipedia, a hugely popular reference tool in the West, has been banned from China since last October. Whereas Google, Microsoft and Yahoo went into the country accepting some restrictions on their online content, Wales believes it must be all or nothing for Wikipedia.

His stand comes as, a joint campaign by The Observer and Amnesty International for free speech on the web, continues with the support of more than 37,000 people around the world. The campaign calls on governments to stop persecuting political bloggers and on IT companies to stop complying with these repressive regimes.

I criticized Amnesty International for being late to speak out on the China repression situation, but I’ll have to concede that they’ve gone beyond window-dressing.

This news comes on the heels of a Biz Weak article on Chinese repression (“Helping Big Brother Go Hi Tech”; link probably requires subscription) that leads me to believe that BizzyBlog Internet Wall of Shame membership may need to double. More on that to come, hopefully soon.