When January's retail sales failed to meet expectations, Old Media made sure we knew about how "disappointing" the result was. But today, February's result, which beat expectations by about as much or more than January's trailed them, was described as a mere "reprieve."
Associated Press reporter Anne D'Innocenzio's January coverage began as follows:
Stores Post Disappointing January Sales
Here's a sign of how shaky the economy has become: Wal-Mart says its shoppers are redeeming their holiday gift cards for basic items — pasta sauce, diapers, laundry detergent — instead of iPods or DVDs.
Merchants had hoped shoppers armed with gift cards would provide a lift after a dismal holiday shopping season — partly because shoppers tend to spend even more than the value of the card. But that didn't seem to happen last month, and retailers are feeling the pain.
On Thursday, the nation's retailers turned in their worst January in almost four decades as high gas and food prices, a slumping housing market, tighter credit and a tougher job market pushed consumers to the edge.
Sales at 43 retailers surveyed by the UBS-International Council of Shopping Centers rose just 0.5 percent in January, well below the original 1.5 percent forecast.
But before you saw this post's headline, did you know that February's retail sales gain was decent, and exceeded expectations? If you did, it's only because you had to wade through a lot of negative verbiage before getting to that news. Here's how this unbylined AP report on February from earlier today begins:
Retailers Get a Reprieve in February
Consumers gave the nation's stores some relief in February, spending a little more freely although they mostly gravitated toward discounters and grocers. The challenge for merchants in coming months is to get shoppers to splurge on spring fashions — a tough task when Americans are worried about plunging home values, tighter credit and rising gas prices.
As retailers reported mixed February sales results Thursday, it was clear that shoppers bought the basics, helping low-price operators like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Costco Wholesale Corp. exceed Wall Street expectations after a dismal January and disappointing holiday season. But customers largely shunned mall-based apparel stores, hurting merchants like Gap Inc., Limited Brands Inc. and J.C. Penney Co.
The reader has to get to the seventh paragraph, instead of the fourth in January's report above, before seeing the expectations-beating news:
The UBS-International Council of Shopping Centers preliminary sales tally of 39 retailers rose 1.9 percent in February, exceeding the estimated growth range of 0.5 percent to 1 percent.
So, as noted earlier, February's result beat expectations by as much or more than January's trailed them. What exactly is the problem here?
Also, you have to get a good snicker at the expectations game the AP reporter is playing. If we don't "splurge" on spring fashions, we're apparently supposed to think that we're all doomed.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.