Fri, 29 Sep 2023

While many people are familiar with the United States Census every 10 years as mandated by the Constitution, over 100 different surveys are conducted by the US Census Bureau each year. SBB Research Group summarizes vital information from about these lesser-known-but significant-surveys in this educational series.

What is the Advance Monthly Sales for Retail and Food Services Survey?

The Advanced Monthly Sales for Retail and Food Services (MARTS) work together with the Annual Retail Trade Survey, Monthly Retail Trade Survey, and the Quarterly E-Commerce Report to generate a detailed database on retail economic activity. Each month MARTS collects data (dollar value of sales, reporting period, and the number of establishments) from retail and food services on merchandise sales to final consumers. MARTS selects about 5,000 companies each month to complete a mail-based survey.

The Census Bureau provides a tool to view monthly sales from 1992 to current. One interesting trend to examine is sales at gas stations. Monthly sales at gas stations steadily increased from $12.803B in January 1992 to $65.982B in May 2022, which makes sense given inflation and gasoline price increases. However, more details emerge when inspecting these data. For instance, the monthly sales at gas stations in 2019 and January and February hovered around $43B but drastically fell to $36B in March and $26B in April 2020 as COVID-19 precautions started. Sales steadily increased throughout 2020 and returned to $40B in January 2021. Gas station sales ranged from $32.9B to $49.1B from January 2011 to July 2021 (excluding March-December 2020). However, starting August 2022 to May 2022, sales drastically increased from $49.5B to $65.9B.

Multiple industries experienced drastic decreases after the establishment of COVID-19 precautions. For example, from January 2020 to April 2020, Clothing and clothing accessories decreased from $23B to $2.8B, furniture sales decreased from $10.4B to $3.9B, food services decreased from $67.9B to $31.1B, and retail stores fell from $456.1B to $375.9B. However, not all sectors experienced a decrease in sales during early 2020. For example, the building materials sector saw no effect in sales following COVID-19 precaution, from $32.1B in January 2020 to $31.8B in April 2020. In contrast, grocery stores increased sales, particularly in March 2020, when they experienced an all-time high, $57.9B in January, $74.1B in March, and $64.2B in April.

Although examining the effects of COVID-19 on sales is interesting, these data also provide information on trends in the economy. For example, department store sales decreased in the early 2000s, and electronic store sales remained relatively the same for the last 30 years. In comparison, sales at health and personal care stores and building material and gardening supplies have steadily increased since 1992. In the figure below, you can see these trends. The figure also displays an interesting hump from 2003 to 2009. Building materials increased in sales right before the recession. We are currently in another significant increase.

How is the Data Used?

The Advanced Monthly Sales for Retail and Food Services is a robust economic indicator used by government agencies, academic researchers, investors, and businesses. For example, the Federal Reserve Board predicts economic trends, the Council of Economic Advisors analyzes economic policies, and the Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates Gross Domestic Product. Investors use these data to analyze market trends, and businesses use the data to analyze their products and to predict future demand.


About SBB Research Group

SBB Research Group LLC is a Chicago-based investment management firm that views the market through a systematic, interdisciplinary lens. Led by applied mathematician Sam Barnett, Ph.D., and Matt Aven, an experienced professional in economics and computer science, the company specializes in investments designed to protect and grow investor capital.

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