Wednesday, April 15, 2015

US Consumers: Chill in the Air (excerpt)

Yesterday’s March retail sales report was certainly disappointing. It suggests that the winter’s big chill has turned into the spring’s sloppy soft patch. Bond yields fell on the news, which might force the Fed to postpone liftoff from mid-year to later this year.

The weakness in retail sales from December through February didn’t jibe with the strength in employment and consumer confidence. Another surprise was that the windfall from falling gasoline prices didn’t show up in better spending in other retail categories. Then March employment data turned weak, and the month’s 1.0% gain in retail sales excluding gasoline (to a new record high) wasn’t much of a spring rebound following the 0.8% decline from December through February. Even worse, on an inflation-adjusted basis, core retail sales (excluding autos, gasoline, and building materials) fell 1.3% saar during Q1.

What’s the problem? It might be our health. American consumers now spend a record $8,066 per capita annually on health care. Thanks to Obamacare, we are all paying more to the piper. The out-of-pocket costs of health care have increased significantly, with higher premiums and co-pays and bigger deductibles. Unfortunately, it’s hard to quantify this because statistics are not available. The government’s data show total spending on health care without showing payments made by the government, insurance companies, and consumers.

Today's Morning Briefing: Paying the Piper. (1) T-Day! (2) Road crews filling potholes on a hit-or-miss basis. (3) It’s good to be king. (4) Who pays taxes? (5) From winter’s ice patch to spring’s soft patch. (6) Postponing liftoff? (7) Not much spring in March retail sales. (8) Health care out-of-pocket outlays infecting retail sales? (9) Excluding energy, revenues growth holding up. (10) Lots of geopolitical hot spots. (11) Talking points vs. wish lists. (12) Focus on market-weight-rated S&P 500 Retail. (More for subscribers.)

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