The US Consumer Taps Out: BofA Internal Credit Card Data Shows Retail Spending Tumbles

By Tyler Durden

Ahead of this week’s big macro event, Thursday’s retail sales report, Bank of America has, as is customary, released its own internal credit and debit card data. It’s downright ugly.

As BofA’s new chief economist Michelle Meyer writes, “as we know from the choppiness of the monthly data, we are due for a partial payback in 3Q. We already saw a weakening in July retail sales based on both the BAC aggregated card data and Census Bureau figures. Based on the BAC aggregated card data, retail sales ex-autos fell 0.1% mom SA in August, a payback from 2Q strength.”

The details, as per BofA, reveal that “the BAC aggregated card data showed that retail sales ex-autos declined 0.1% mom SA in August. This follows the 0.3% mom decline in July and pushes the 3-month average down to -0.2% mom.” The number would have been even worse if BofA had not decided to adjust out data from the recently bankrupt Sports Authority. As BofA writes, “there is a special factor to account for — we adjusted our data to control for the bankruptcy of Sports Authority, which officially shut stores this month. We expect the Census Bureau will do the same.” In other words, if one did not “adjust” the data for this factor, it would have been an outright disaster.

Broken down by various component categories, BofA finds that within the components of the back-to-school composite, spending on teen retail and young adult clothing has performed poorly. Here BofA has seen “fairly consistent contraction in this category since 2012.This fits into the “apparel malaise” theme that BofA Merrill Lynch’s consumer equity analysts have noted. It also likely reflects the shift in consumer budgets towards greater spending on experiences, which is evident in relatively stronger spend at hobby stores, travel and restaurants.” It also means less spending on, well, non-experiences, which includes most goods and services.

The weakness continued at department stores, where sales based on the BAC aggregated card data fell 1.1% mom SA in Augustand are now down 4.6% yoy. The weakness in department stores is not a new phenomenon. Based on the BAC data, the share of sales to department stores declined from 2.5% in the beginning of the sample in 2005 to 2.0% today. The Census Bureau shows an even steeper decline.

Then, there is auto parts and vehicle unit sales, both of which also have shown continued weakness. BofA isolated a time series for autoparts that includes aftermarket parts but not original equipment parts. Autoparts trend well with vehicle unit sales, showing that the same macro factors are generally influencing demand for new autos and replacement parts. Both series have softened recently on a YoY basis.

Summarizing all the underlying components in tabular format, the data shows that the US consumer has now fully tapped out, and unless the Dept of Commerce comes out with some ridiculous seasonal adjustment, this Thursday’s number will be bad enough to kill not only a December rate hike, but potentially all rate hike in this “none and done” cycle.

Finally, if that isn’t enough, here are six more charts showing the trend of US retail sales. All else equal, the Fed should be cutting rates aggressively at this point.

Source: The US Consumer Taps Out: BofA Internal Credit Card Data Shows Retail Spending Tumbles