Poor December has retailers questioning first quarter
Fifty-four percent of retailers reported better holiday sales than last year, while 30 percent reported declines. Overall, sales at individual Michigan stores and websites were up an average of 2.9 percent, according to the monthly survey of MRA member businesses.
However, December’s sales index number fell to 46.6 from 60.2 in November.
“It’s fair to call the results ‘mixed.’ December was a disappointment for many Michigan retailers, and it took strong sales in October and November to offset that end-of-year dip,” said MRA President and CEO James P. Hallan.
“It’s hard to pinpoint the exact reason. But the unemployment rate was stuck at 8.9 percent in December. And perhaps shoppers became cautious over the inaction in Washington prior to Christmas to resolve the ‘fiscal cliff’ issue and prevent significant tax increases.”
The December Michigan Retail Index found that 36 percent of retailers increased sales over the same month last year, while 46 percent recorded declines and 18 percent saw no change.
The results create a seasonally adjusted performance index of 46.6, down from 60.2 in November. A year ago December, it was 59.1.
The Index gauges the performance of the state’s overall retail industry, based on monthly surveys conducted by MRA and the Federal Reserve. Index values higher than 50 generally indicate positive activity; the higher the number, the stronger the activity.
Looking forward, 40 percent of retailers expect sales during January-March to increase over the same period last year, while 22 percent project a decrease and 38 percent no change.
That puts the seasonally adjusted outlook index at 63.7, down from 72.8 in November. A year ago December, it was 71.8.
William Strauss is senior economist and economic advisor with the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. He can be reached at (312) 322-8151.