When Target Stores reported results for its second-quarter, which ended on July 31, on August 17, the Associated Press's Anne D'Innocenzio told readers that "Sales at stores open at least a year fell 1.1 percent, reversing seven straight quarters of gains," and that "Customer traffic fell for the first time in a year and a half."
What could have caused such a stark reversal, especially in light of the fact that the next day, larger archrival Wal-Mart reported, as seen in the Wall Street Journal, that "sales at established stores (were) up for the eighth consecutive quarter and more shoppers visiting for the seventh period (i.e., quarter) in a row"? The AP's D'Innocenzio dutifully relayed a statement from Target's chief financial officer in Paragraph 17 of her 19-paragraph report that "the impact of the bathroom issue has 'really not been material.'" Balderdash.
Retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc. apparently got on the good side of the Associated Press a year ago when it announced that would be raising entry-level wages.
Since that announcement, AP, in particular wire service reporter Anne D'Innocenzio, has been excusing the company's relatively poor financial performance while complimenting it for a virtually imaginary "perk up" in sales. Falling profits, store closures, and even the company's mid-February announcement that it expects sales to be "relatively flat" during the 12 months ending January 31, 2017 — summarized in one report from another media outlet as indicating that its customers "are too broke to shop" — have failed to dampen the wire service's strange enthusiasm.
On December 28, the headline at a conveniently unbylined report at the Associated Press screamed: "HOLIDAY SPENDING UP 8 PERCENT; ONLINE SALES SURGE." As I noted in a post later that day, this was odd, to say the least, given that even the incurably optimistic National Retail Federation had predicted an increase of only 3.7 percent. It turned out that the reported growth rate was based on the number of sales transactions, not their dollar amount. Despite that, the late-December AP report repeatedly and irresponsibly characterized the percentage increase as showing growth in "sales" and "spending."
The NRF came out with its official Christmas shopping season sales increase on Friday: +3.0 percent.
What little remains of the economy's momentum appears to be riding on Christmas season consumer spending being perceived as strong. Unfortunately, it hasn't been.
Following up on her early Friday excuse-making for why things haven't gone too well at the malls so far — it's because the weather has just been too darned nice — Anne D'Innocenzio at the Associated Press worked over the available statistics to leave readers with the impression that it's not all that bad, and that there's plenty of time for a comeback. The linchpin of her effort is her claim that online sales continue to grow nicely. That's not so.
They have an excuse for everything, don't they?
This morning, Anne D'Innocenzio at the Associated Press actually told readers that this year's relatively warm Christmas season weather is what's hurting Christmas shopping season sales. It couldn't possibly be the "slowdown reality" USA Today cited in headlining Friday's second straight steep stock market drop, could it, Anne? Most other Americans participating in the real world have recognized the existence of a "slowdown reality" for at least the past few months.
It "seems" that a bit of doubt seeped into an economy-related Associated Press report today. An hour later, it was gone.
An early report by Josh Boak with a 10:22 a.m. time stamp found at a subscribing outlet's site described job growth in the past 12 months as "seemingly robust." An hour later, in an expansion of that early report primarily covering today's government release on July retail sales, Boak, in collaboration with Anne D'Innocenzio, described it as "solid."
Concerning the Christmas shopping season, the Associated Press's Anne D'Innocenzio and CNBC's Krystina Gustafson agree: It has stunk.
D'Innocenzio noted that "sales at stores have fallen for the third consecutive week as Americans continue to hold back on spending during what is traditionally the busiest buying period of the year." Gustafson, apparently looking over the same ShopperTrak data as D'Innocenzio, added that "store traffic in the final week before Christmas posted the third straight week of double-digit declines." Neither noted that combination of much lower traffic and relatively slight sales declines appears to indicate that the well-off are splurging, while many families of average means are AWOL. Though it's hard to see how, the keepers of Christmas data at ShopperTrak the National Retail Federation and the International Council of Shopping Centers still believe they will end up in meaningfully positive territory when all is said and done.
On October 3, the National Retail Federation projected that "sales in the months of November and December" will "marginally increase 3.9 percent to $602.1 billion, over 2012’s actual 3.5 percent holiday season sales growth." But on October 16, it warned that "the average holiday shopper will spend $737.95 on gifts, décor, greeting cards and more, two percent less than the $752.24 they actually spent last year."
Anne D'Innocenzio at the Associated Press, aka the Administration's Press, in a report on the upcoming Christmas shopping season, chose to report the NRF's overall November-December increase, and ignored the obviously more relevant and more recent individual spending expectations. She also held off mentioning the elephant in the room — sharply reduced spending by Obamacare "sticker shock" victims and those who anticipate more of the same during 2014 — until the 19th of her 21 paragraphs (bolds are mine):
What do you do when you're the Associated Press, aka the Administration's Press, and you're trying to do your level best to described a floundering economy without incurring the wrath of the Obama administration? You search for positive-sounding words to describe what is in reality a marginal situation.
The AP seems to have settled on "steady" and "steadily."
A post-Black Friday weekend dispatch at the Associated Press on November 26 reported that "The holiday shopping season got off to a strong start on Black Friday, with retail sales up 7 percent over last year, according to one survey. Now stores just have to keep buyers coming back without the promise of door-buster savings."
It turns out that the originally reported number was far too rosy. Nevertheless, in both late Sunday and early Monday reports, AP retail writers Mae Anderson and Anne D'Innocenzio treated the actual result, which came in 60 percent lower, as "strong." Each report contained the following paragraph (bolds are mine throughout this post):
The Associated Press's Anne D'Innocenzio is clearly mystified and possibly even upset that consumer confidence as reported by the Conference Board on Wednesday fell sharply to its lowest level since November of last year.
Get a load of the second paragraph's first sentence in the version D'Innocenzio posted late yesterday morning shortly after the report's release, followed by asinine assertions which in effect say that Americans don't understand that things are getting better -- and, as usual, it's all about Dear Leader's reelection (bolds are mine):
On Tuesday (at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog), I noted how the Associated Press's headlined assessments at Anne D'Innocenzio's reports throughout the day on the Conference Board's monthly consumer confidence survey went from "falls" to "dips slightly" to "roughly flat" before ending up at "rosy" -- an evaluation the AP reporter also included in the verbiage of her final dispatch. For the record, the confidence measurement fell to 70.2 in March from 71.6 in February. Bloomberg's final report for the day also obfuscated, with a headline of "Consumer Confidence in U.S. Holds Close to One-Year High" and an opening sentence which read: "Confidence among U.S. consumers in March held close to the highest level in a year, underpinned by an improving labor market" -- anything to keep any indication of drop out of what most people would see. Along the same lines, Rush Limbaugh also picked on Reuters Tuesday for saying that confidence only "eased."
The University of Michigan's Consumer Sentiment Survey came out today. The press release's opening sentence: "Consumer confidence edged upward as more favorable income and job trends offset rising gas prices." Its value (with a different scale) went from 75.3 to 76.2. That's also "roughly" flat, isn't it? Don't be silly. All three wires said that an increase smaller than Tuesday's Conference Board decrease was an unqualified "rise."