Is the Consumer Starting to Wage a Comeback?
August retail sales soared far higher than expected, rising 2.7% during the month. Backing out the impact of the “cash for clunkers” program, retail sales, excluding autos, still rose by 1.1%. The overall gain, led by a 10.6% growth at auto dealers, was the strongest month over month gain since January 2006. The most positive aspect of these reports, in our view at Hennion & Walsh, was the strength observed in the traditional “back to school” segments such as department, apparel, sporting goods and hobby stores. While these are sequential gains and retail sales are still off last year’s pace by approximately 5%, this data suggests there may be upside surprise potential for retail sales during the 2009 Holiday season.
Despite these optimistic undertones, we would not be surprised to see disappointing earnings once 3rd quarter earnings are announced in late October due to the reluctance of financially constrained consumers to spend in earnest thus far this year. As a result, the forward looking guidance that most companies provide to accompany their quarterly earnings announcements will be of critical importance this quarter.