The headline retail sales number for October came in better than expected, up 1.4%. Of course, sales were down more than expected in September, so a bounce isn’t a complete surprise.
Interestingly, it was mostly auto sales that drove the decline in September and the increase in October. Remove auto sales from the numbers and retail sales were up 0.4% in September and 0.2% in October.
Those aren’t big numbers and it’s easy to imagine that they could reverse if there are any new shocks to the U.S. economy. But retail sales numbers are a better measure of consumer confidence than polls like the Michigan Sentiment Survey, especially when people are making long-term commitments like car purchases.
I suspect we can attribute much of the bullish bias in the stock market to rising expectations for holiday spending.
*****President Obama is in China this week. I’m sure you’ll read plenty in the media about how Obama is there simply to reassure the Chinese about the U.S. dollar and our deficit. But it’s critical to remember just how inter-dependent the U.S. and China are.
China is an export economy. Without the U.S. consumer, their economy collapses. China will continue to buy U.S. Treasuries because it’s in their interest to do so.
Also remember that China has been pegging its currency to the U.S. dollar since last year. China knows full well that the U.S. dollar is weak against the euro and the yen. China is deliberately piggy-backing on the U.S. dollar to keep their exports competitive.
So why all the lip service about the relative strength of the U.S. dollar? It seems to me it’s just good old fashioned politickin’. We complain about their human rights and slap tariffs on Chinese tires and steel, they gripe about our currency and deficits. It’s pretty standard stuff…