There’s More to the Economy Than Walmart

Early last month, the blogging world was transfixed by a leaked set of emails from a Walmart executive complaining that the first week of sales in February was terrible. “February MTD sales are a total disaster,” said Jerry Murray, Walmart’s vice president of finance and logistics. “The worst start to a month I have seen in my ~7 years with the company.”

I didn’t bother reporting this when I first heard it, and I didn’t bother a second time when it started making the rounds of the blogosphere. It was one week of sales! Turns out this was a good call:

Retail and food-service sales increased 1.1% to a seasonally adjusted $421.4 billion, the Commerce Department said Wednesday, marking the fourth straight monthly gain and biggest rise since September. The figure was up 4.6% from a year ago….Retail sales excluding gasoline, automobiles and building materials—a figure watched closely by economists who use it as a truer gauge of consumer behavior—was up 0.36% in February, the Commerce Department said.

The number for general merchandise stores like Walmart wasn’t great, but it wasn’t disastrous either. Overall, consumer spending was fairly strong last month, it just wasn’t being directed Walmart’s way.

The lesson is simple. It’s silly to get too exercised about a single month’s economic data. It’s really silly to get too exercised about a single week’s economic data. And it’s silly beyond belief to get too exercised about a single week’s economic data at a single store, even if it is Walmart. Live and learn.

BY THE WAY: The company refers to itself these days as Walmart, not Wal-Mart. Copy desks everywhere take note.