Friday, December 12, 2008

Obsession with Curves

December sales traditionally ramp up sharply in the third week of the month. I've been carefully watching for that curve, comparing year to year sales in hopes of seeing it. The pessimist in me thinks there may not be a curve this year, but so far sales are fairly normal, plus or minus five percent on a day-to-day basis. Retailers like myself need December cash for two important purposes. The first is to get into the black after a punishing fourth quarter. The second is to save up cash for the slow first quarter, usually the quietest time of the year. Many would have had a third objective of expansion with holiday cash, but those plans are on hold for most businesses now. Retailers who do really poorly and can't accomplish either objective may close their doors in January. Those who can achieve only one objective will find themselves in just as much pain as they're in now come March. My sales expectations for December are a normal low.

Normal low is what we got with the latest retail sales report. "Retail sales were flat" should have been the news from the latest sales reports, since after you adjust for gas, sales were down nationally a small .2%. A decline of point two percent is the monthly sales impact of a rain storm on a Saturday for us. No bid deal. Also, this data contradicts the big retail headline we saw with retailers having the worst monthly sales on record:

Retail chain-stores reported the weakest monthly sales on record, but the government data don't back that up. One difference: The government tries to adjust its figures for the timing of the Thanksgiving holiday, while the stores don't.

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