March 6, 2008

AP: Improved Retail Sales in February Only a ‘Reprieve’

Filed under: Economy,MSM Biz/Other Bias,MSM Biz/Other Ignorance — Tom @ 11:08 pm

When January’s retail sales failed to meet expectations, Old Media made sure we knew about how “disappointing” the result was. But today, February’s result, which beat expectations by about as much or more than January’s trailed them, was described as a mere “reprieve.”

Associated Press reporter Anne D’Innocenzio’s January coverage began as follows:

Stores Post Disappointing January Sales

Here’s a sign of how shaky the economy has become: Wal-Mart says its shoppers are redeeming their holiday gift cards for basic items — pasta sauce, diapers, laundry detergent — instead of iPods or DVDs.

Merchants had hoped shoppers armed with gift cards would provide a lift after a dismal holiday shopping season — partly because shoppers tend to spend even more than the value of the card. But that didn’t seem to happen last month, and retailers are feeling the pain.

On Thursday, the nation’s retailers turned in their worst January in almost four decades as high gas and food prices, a slumping housing market, tighter credit and a tougher job market pushed consumers to the edge.

Sales at 43 retailers surveyed by the UBS-International Council of Shopping Centers rose just 0.5 percent in January, well below the original 1.5 percent forecast.

But before you saw this post’s headline, did you know that February’s retail sales gain was decent, and exceeded expectations? If you did, it’s only because you had to wade through a lot of negative verbiage before getting to that news. Here’s how this unbylined AP report on February from earlier today begins:

Retailers Get a Reprieve in February

Consumers gave the nation’s stores some relief in February, spending a little more freely although they mostly gravitated toward discounters and grocers. The challenge for merchants in coming months is to get shoppers to splurge on spring fashions — a tough task when Americans are worried about plunging home values, tighter credit and rising gas prices.

As retailers reported mixed February sales results Thursday, it was clear that shoppers bought the basics, helping low-price operators like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Costco Wholesale Corp. exceed Wall Street expectations after a dismal January and disappointing holiday season. But customers largely shunned mall-based apparel stores, hurting merchants like Gap Inc., Limited Brands Inc. and J.C. Penney Co.

The reader has to get to the seventh paragraph, instead of the fourth in January’s report above, before seeing the expectations-beating news:

The UBS-International Council of Shopping Centers preliminary sales tally of 39 retailers rose 1.9 percent in February, exceeding the estimated growth range of 0.5 percent to 1 percent.

So, as noted earlier, February’s result beat expectations by as much or more than January’s trailed them. What exactly is the problem here?

Also, you have to get a good snicker at the expectations game the AP reporter is playing. If we don’t “splurge” on spring fashions, we’re apparently supposed to think that we’re all doomed.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

Get Ready for a Weak February Treasury Statement

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 4:01 pm

Here’s how the key info from the February 29 Daily Treasury Statement came in:

TreasDaily022908

The increase in withholdings collected is the good news, as I believe it shows that more people are working more hours, which indicates underlying economic strength. Yes, there was one more business day in 2008, but from a collections standpoint, it’s more important that February 2007 and 2008 each had four Mondays.

But the drop in non-withhelds and corporate taxes collected could be another signal of a longer-term problem, namely, as I said last month, that the entrepreneurial engine is stuck on idle.

As to the refunds, $98.2 billion has gone to individuals, and $8.1 billion to businesses, vs. $77.4 bil and $5.7 bil a year ago. It’s hard to tell how much of the individual refund increase happened because those who are entitled to refunds filed earlier to get them faster, or whether it’s because the average refund for each filer has been a lot higher. This USA Today article indicates that it’s a bit of both, though (because USAT’s reporting covers the first two months and not just February) I can’t get from its stats to February’s 27% increase ($98.2/$77.4).

So it looks like net receipts for February will be no more than $100 billion, and could come in a lot lower.

If there’s no letup in federal spending, which has averaged $235 billion per month so far this year, a one-month deficit of $150 billion, and conceivably even higher, isn’t out of the question (last February’s deficit was “only” $120 billion). Old Media will probably pounce on this as evidence of chronic economic decay.

We’ll know the final numbers next Wednesday at 2 p.m., when the Monthly Treasury Statement comes out.

Couldn’t Help But Notice (030608)

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government,US & Allied Military — Tom @ 9:05 am

Gulp – Rush isn’t concerned (HT NewsBusters’ Matthew Balan) about the nightmare scenario of a Democratic ticket headed up by the candidate I refer to as HR4C (Hillary Rodham Cackling Crying Complaining Clinton), with the candidate I refer to as BOOHOO (Barack O-bomba Overseas Hussein “Obambi” Obama) as Veep.

In fact, it looks like he would welcome it:

Let’s put Hillary at the top, put Hillary on top. That’s a position she’s familiar with. Therefore, you’ve got a woman and a black first time ever on the Democrat ticket. Ahem. (laughter) They don’t have a prayer.

I could go on and on about how dangerous this is, but instead I’ll just echo what Mrs. Clinton said Wednesday on Fox & Friends: “Be careful what you wish for.”

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Cook County, Illinois, whose county seat is Chicago, which is in turn the home of Barack Obama, is now the home of something else (HT TaxProf Blog; bold is mine):

A drink at the bar, a fast-food meal and back-to-school shopping are among those things about to get a bit more expensive in Cook County.

Early Saturday, Cook County Board President Todd Stroger struck a deal with board members, who approved a 1 percent increase in the sales tax – driving Chicago’s overall sales tax to double digits at 10.25 percent, easily among the highest of any big city.

And it will be enacted just in time for the Christmas shopping season.

….. Business leaders and others predicted immediate negative ramifications.

Chicago now has the unfortunate notoriety of having the highest sales tax in the country, and our region will now be a more expensive place to visit, live, work and operate a business,” said Jerry Roper, head of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. “The people of our region should be outraged.”

I’m not aware of any reaction from Obama. His track record would suggest that it doesn’t bother him a bit.

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Clever word of the day — Describing oldline feminists as “gyno-saurs.”

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Speaking of people the “gyno-saurs” ridicule, as of the moment this post was prepared, one US soldier has died in Iraq during March — and that death was non-hostile (select “Non Hostile” on the “Fatality type” drop-down bar at the link).

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My reax to the continued intimidation and censorship efforts in Canada with accommodation and cooperation from the Canadian Human Rights Commission, this time of conservative bloggers, is the same as it was in late December (last item at link): “Where in the bleep is Stephen Harper?”

New Pajamas Media Column (‘Hillary and Obama Play with Fire on Free Trade’) Is Up

Filed under: Economy,News from Other Sites,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 7:19 am

It’s here.

Saturday, morning, after the blackout is lifted, I will post it at BizzyBlog under the title “As Dem Candidates Continue to Play with Fire on Trade, the Country Risks Getting Burned.”

Positivity: Crash victim saved by good samaritans with forklift

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 5:58 am

From Portland, Oregon:

05:52 PM PST on Saturday, February 23, 2008

Washington County Sheriff's Office

A man from a nearby nursery brought over a forklift to help lift the weight of the car off the trapped woman.
The accident happened just before 10:30 a.m. on Saturday morning on SW River Road just south of SW Farmington Road in Washington County.

Witnesses told police that 20-year-old Stephanie Baker lost control of her car in a turn. The car then spun out of control and flipped onto its side.

Baker was trapped under the weight of the car with her head stuck under the doorframe.

Her passenger, 30-year-old David Clark was able to walk away from the crash.

Police said several citizens stopped to help and were able to lift the car partially off the woman after they noticed the weight of the vehicle was keeping her from breathing.

A man from a nearby nursery brought over a forklift and was able to lift the car off the victim, allowing her to resume breathing on her own.

Deputies on the scene of the crash said the citizens who stopped and rendered aid to the woman saved her life. te>

Go here for the rest of the story and a picture from the scene.