April advance retail sales were announced much lower than expected, coming in at -0.4% vs the anticipated 0% month-over-month change. Auto sales constitute a large part of retail sales (around 20%, in fact), and so it can be informative to look at the retail number excluding autos to see the real trend in consumer behavior. That figure was -0.5% vs an expected 0.2% gain.
You may recall that not long ago, the seasonally-adjusted auto sales rate for April was announced at a dismal 9.3mm vehicles, following a March rate of 9.9mm (and an awful February, 9.1). This looks like a clear case of auto sales dropping in April, which is unsurprising given the Chrysler/GM turmoil. Even Toyota sales were hurt as consumers shied from the entire industry.
The economists who are surveyed before the sales figures are announced clearly took the poor April data into account, since their median sales number inclusive of autos is 0.2% lower than ex-autos. But the actual data released this morning (-0.5% ex-autos; -0.4% inclusive) implies that auto sales contributed a gain of 0.1% in April!
Maybe we'll get a revision?