Canadian Retail Sales Up, But Weak Spots Abound: StatsCan

By Ed Strapagiel

Ed Strapagiel is a consultant specializing in applied marketing, business development and strategic planning. [Ed Strapagiel's Website]

Statistics Canada's latest numbers show a 4.6% increase in total retail sales in May of 2014, over the same month a year ago, on a not seasonally adjusted basis. This is the highest such monthly gain so far this year. 

The 3 month year-over-year growth trend (orange line in the chart above) has now risen slightly above the 12 month trend (green line). This implies a fairly steady pace going forward, perhaps with a little upside. 

On the other hand, these results are not evenly spread. Overall, the Automotive & Related sector is most responsible for pushing up the total retail gain. In May 2014 on a year-over-year basis, Automotive & Related retail sales increased 6.9%, over double that for Food & Drug with a 3.2% increase, or Store Merchandise with a 3.4% increase. 

Food & Drug Stores

Food & Drug stores' sales gained 3.2% for the 3 months ending May 2014. While not sizzling, this 3 month trend is at the highest levels since 2011 and is tracking above the 12 month trend currently at 2.1%. But there are significant disparities among the store types in this sector. 

Sales at supermarkets & other grocery stores were up just 0.7% for the 3 months ending May. This is less than inflation in the food business. 

In contrast, specialty food stores and health & personal stores are enjoying high sales growth rates, in the 8% to 9% range, and well above the overall retail average. 

Store Merchandise

Retail sales were up 3.4% in May for Store Merchandise, the best single month gain in 2014 so far. After steadily softening since August of last year, the 3 month trend appears to be modestly recovering (orange line in the above chart), although it is still behind the other major retail sectors. 

The other general merchandise stores group (mostly large combo retailers) continues to outpace all other merchants in this sector. Year-over-year sales were up 7.1% for the 3 months ending May, and up 8.0% for 2014 year-to date. 

Fortunes vary for other store types, mostly unfavourably:
- Clothing stores gained 4.0% in 2013 but are up only 1.5% year-to-date in 2014;
- Shoe stores gained 6.2% in May alone but are still up only 1.2% year-to-date;
- Furniture stores gained 4.4% in May but are still down 0.8% year-to-date;
- Electronics and appliance stores lost more ground in May and are down 0.9% year-to-date;
- Building material and garden equipment/supplies retailers gained a little in May but are down 0.4% year-to-date. 

Automotive & Related

Sales gains in the Automotive & Related sector continue to be well above the overall Canadian retail average. Year-to-date sales were up 7.4% in May, and the trend lines indicate this high level of performance should remain steady going forward. 

The only weak spot in this sector is the small other motor vehicle dealers group (e.g., motorcycles and recreational vehicles). Sales were down 6.3% in May and are off 2.6% year-to-date. 

Gasoline station retail sales continue to climb and were up 10.6% in May versus a year ago, the single highest increase of any store type in the month. For the 12 months ending May, sales were a record $64 billion, which is over double that of clothing and clothing accessories stores. 

The Numbers, below: