The way data is released, it is not clear to most the differences between the business releases pumped out by the US Census. Earlier today (analysis here and here), Econintersect analyzed advance retail sales for March 2011.
Now US Census has released final business sales and inventory figures for February 2011. This is final data for February 2011 for:
To add confusion, US Census has subtly revised the entire data series causing Econintersect to rebuild its data base. Here are the headlines from the U.S. Census Bureau report (based on seasonally adjusted data):
Sales. The U.S. Census Bureau announced today that the combined value of distributive trade sales and manufacturers shipments for February, adjusted for seasonal and trading-day differences but not for price changes, was estimated a $1,174.2 billion, up 0.2 percent (±0.2%)* from January 2011 and up 10.9 percent (±0.5%) from February 2010.
Inventories. Manufacturers’ and trade inventories, adjusted for seasonal variations but not for price changes, were estimated at an end-of-month level of $1,457.9 billion, up 0.5 percent (±0.1%) from January 2011 and up 9.1 percent (±0.4%) from February 2010.
Inventories/Sales Ratio. The total business inventories/sales ratio based on seasonally adjusted data at the end of February was 1.24. The February 2010 ratio was 1.26.
Econintersect uses non-seasonally adjusted data which must must be evaluated on a year-over-year (YoY) to remive seasonal baises.
It is difficult to see by visual inspection whether February 2011 is better as Febuarys usually have lower levels of sales than Januarys. Over the last 6 years, the average decline from January to February is 0.3% – and between January and February this year the decline was only 0.02%. So you could argue February was better then January, adjusting for the average historical decline.
But this “improvement” is so small (and is smaller then the potential error range) that a normal and reasonable person would consider business sales flat for February 2011 compared to the prior month. It is interesting that the original analysis of the February data called manufacturing, wholesale trade, and retail sales improved. Due to data revisions, it appears that the data is now flat.
March Retail Sales: A Slight Decline in Real Terms by Doug Short
Nominal Retail Sales Growth Confirmed in the Detail by Steven Hansen
Manufacturing Continues Solid Growth in February 2011 by Steven Hansen
Wholesale Sales: Evidence of Moderate Growth by Steven Hansen
Retail Sales Up – Not Impacted by Fuel Costs by Steven Hansen