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MNI: PBOC Net Drains CNY329 Billion via OMOs Monday
MNI: PBOC Yuan Parity Lower At 6.8956 Monday; -8.43% Y/Y
MNI REALITY CHECK: Feb Storms Check US Retail Sales
Severe winter storm disruptions in Texas kept a lid on overall U.S. retail sales last month but further re-openings and increased vaccinations alongside the December rescue package continued to support momentum coming into the traditionally weak month for spending, industry experts told MNI.
"I'm looking for February to be a good print, because I think that the pluses are going to outweigh the minuses," said Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist at the National Retail Federation. "There are a number of forces at work that are a push and pull on the February data. You have these winter storms but you have at the same time households having purchasing power and some reopening of the United States."
The bulk of the government's USD900 billion aid package was disbursed to households in early January, and some of that may have been saved and used last month, Kleinhenz said. U.S. employers also added a better-than-expected 379,000 jobs last month, and "as you get more jobs, people have more income and more spending," he added.
Gas prices also rose by about 30 cents in the month to an average of $2.72 at the end of February, above its year-ago level for the first time since the pandemic started, Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at Gasbuddy, told MNI.
Roughly half to two-thirds of that rise can be attributed to the historic storms in Texas that closed refineries and fracking operations, De Haan said. That's since been resolved but OPEC's decision not to ramp up production all but ensures continued price hikes this year, he said..
POSTPONED CAR SALES
Cold weather also kept consumers away from car dealerships and stores last month, setting up for an even stronger March and April as spending is shifted forward at a time when households are getting another round of stimulus checks and tax refunds, industry sources said.
New vehicle SAAR sales were down 6.5% from last year and a 5.4% decrease from January. Texas typically accounts for 9% of all new-vehicle sales in February and "it didn't come close," Michelle Krebs, an analyst at Autotrader, told MNI. But, "those are just postponed sales they are not lost sales," and should be made up this month.
Prices for new cars marched higher still on a lack of inventory, as manufacturers struggle to keep up with demand were also facing parts shortages like chips and seat foam, Krebs said.
Used car sales on the other hand saw an earlier-than-usual "spring bounce" that accelerated in February. Low inventory has also hampered this segment of the market, but the dynamic might shift later in the year, said Charlie Chesbrough, senior economist at Cox Automotive.
Headline retail sales are expected to dip 0.2% last month, according to Bloomberg. Excluding vehicle sales, retail sales should rise 0.2%, adding to January's 5.3% gain. Excluding vehicle and gas station sales, retail sales are expected to fall 0.4%. The control group is expected to see a 0.5% dip after rising 6.0% in January.
Even as shoe sales fell further last month, stores are growing optimistic for the rest of the year. Footwear purveyors likely saw double-digit year-over-year declines last month, said Gary Raines, chief economist at the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America, a Washington-based trade association representing more than 90% of the U.S. footwear industry.
Survey-based February sales numbers "were still down, and down fairly substantially, worse than I had expected," he said, but a declining rate of infections and accelerated vaccines are boosting prospects for a faster second quarter recovery.
Interestingly, according to a new industry survey by the trade group, online retailers are raising prices this year, something brick-and-mortar shops have not been able to do.
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