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The U.S. Census Bureau released the Advance Monthly Retail Trade and Food Services Survey late last week and on the face of it it seems like good news. By that I mean good news that IS good, whereas “less bad” has often been taken as being good in recent times. Seasonally adjusted retail sales were up 1.3% from the previous month and 1.9% year-on-year. Of course this is a survey of retail sales, with a reported error margin of ±0.5%, not a tally of actual data. So how reliable is it?

At the risk of sounding like I wear a tin-foil hat, should we believe government surveys? I figured that the best way to satisfy myself that this survey gives a credible picture of main street was to compare the survey data with states sales tax receipts. To do this I downloaded all the data via Mathematica and used Mathematica to analyze the data and make the plots shown below.

Quarterly sales tax data reported by the states is collected by the US Census bureau and can be found here. Historical survey data is available here.

The first step in making the comparison was to convert the monthly survey data into quarterly data. The next chart plots total quarterly sales taxes and quarterly retails sales survey data. Note that I’ve included items such as motor fuel sales taxes, and taxes on alcohol and tobacco, in the total sales tax number.

correlation
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