Mar 20, 2009

Statscan spins the recession


Here is the upbeat take on retail sales from Statistics Canada’s Daily:

Retail sales rose 1.9% in January after decreasing 5.2% in December. Sales rose in five of the eight retail sectors, led by a 3.8% increase in the automotive sector. In volume terms, retail sales were up 1.8%.

It goes on to report that sales are up in nine provinces. Woo hoo, the recession is over!

But if we take a reality check, and look not at December 2008 to January 2009 numbers, but January 2009 over January 2008, the result is brutal. I looked through the tables and we find that retail sales are down almost 6% over a year ago. Some of the sub-categories are much worse, such as auto sales, which are down 18%. That is deep recession territory.

As for the provinces, all are in negative territory on a year-over-year basis. The Daily says BC had the largest gain of more than 3% compared to December, but sales are down 8.5% compared to a year earlier, the worst of any province.

All that the Daily tells us, in this context, is that December was really awful, and January was somewhat of an improvement relative to December. But ignoring the year-over-year trend is scandalous and irresponsible, and I for one would like to know who made that call over at Statscan. It just seems way too convenient that this analysis is in step with the federal government’s upbeat message track.