AP Does All it Can to Offset Good Retail Sales News

Yesterday, the Associated Press, in its ongoing campaign to make sure that readers get and stay downbeat about the economy, made sure that its story on January's retail sales had can't-miss gloom and doom in it:

Retail sales posted a surprising rebound in January following a dismal December, although much of the strength reflected rising gasoline prices. Economists saw the increase as a temporary blip rather than a sustained recovery.

..... The Commerce Department reported Wednesday that retail sales rose by 0.3 percent last month after having fallen by 0.4 percent in December.

..... But the positive retail number did little to change the view of economists who are forecasting the economy will fall into a recession in the first half of this year.

..... Given all the troubles facing the economy from a prolonged slump in housing to rising food and energy costs, job losses and turbulent financial markets, analysts said it was not surprising to see lackluster retail sales.

It took until Paragraph 6 for the writer to inform us that economists thought reported sales would decrease:

Economists had predicted a 0.3 percent decline in January sales. They noted that without the big jump in gasoline, sales would have risen by a much smaller 0.1 percent. They pointed to a number of areas connected to the troubled housing industry where sales took a tumble including declines at furniture, hardware and appliance stores.

Surely the expert economists AP referred to had already factored in the increase in gas prices when they made their predictions of -0.3%. That is, one can accurately say that "without the big jump in gasoline, economists would have predicted a steeper sales decline of 0.5%." The point is that retail sales beat expectations by 0.6%, the difference between +0.3% and -0.3%. The AP's writeup is a direct attempt to make the reader think that the difference was only 0.4% (+0.3% vs. -0.1%).

It's just all in a day's work in AP's reporting on business and the economy.

Presented in briefer form as part of this post at BizzyBlog.com.

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