Do Business Inventories and Retail Sales Match Up?

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Investors and business owners alike are looking at just about every indicator they can find to make determinations about how fast and by how much the Federal Reserve really will start to raise interest rates. Business inventories might not matter as much, but it may be a different story when you pair this economic reading off against monthly retail sales.

Readers should understand that inventory measurements are for September, while retail sales is an October reading. Inventories often lead actual retail sales. At least that is the hope.

Business inventories rose by 0.3% in September, more than the flat expectation from Bloomberg. August’s business inventories were also revised a tad higher to 0.1% from a flat reading. The blame here is a build-up of retail inventories, which should not be too surprising when you consider what has been said so far from the likes of Wal-Mart, Macy’s, Nordstrom and other key retailers.

Then there is the inventories/sales ratio to consider. The total business inventories/sales ratio at the end of September was 1.38, much higher than the September 2014 ratio of 1.31.

Retail sales rose in October, but less than expected. The headline retail sales figure was up 0.1% in October, versus the 0.3% consensus expectation. The headline report from September was revised to 0.0% (flat) from a preliminary figure of a 0.1% gain. Retail sales excluding autos and gasoline were up 0.3% in October, meeting the 0.3% consensus estimate. On just an ex-autos basis (not gas), the report from September was revised lower to -0.4% from -0.3%.

So, the build-up in inventories is not translating to a big boost in retail sales above expectations. Some of this may be weather, and some may be due to discounting on the retail side. Either way, this is not exactly a great trend, considering how many retailers are seeing their shares get pounded after reporting earnings and offering guidance.

In raw dollar terms, the Census and Commerce Department showed that the retail sales gain of 0.1% for October was $447.3 billion in total. The 0.3% gain in September’s business inventories was $1.8175 trillion in raw dollars.

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