The California Board of Equalization recently released data on taxable retail sales for the first quarter of 2008. Yes, it's a little old and yes it would be nice if they released it sooner. But I picture the Board of Eq. consisting of three elderly clerks who tot-up each retail store's sales in giant ledgers, with the results passing through several committees before they can be released.
Anyway, the details for Q1 2008 are of interest because back then it was becoming clear that we were in a recession. The credit markets were still paralyzed, the housing market was stuffed, unemployment was rising and a few retailers were looking shaky and talking about profit warnings. Also, gas prices were rocketing, causing people to cut back on travel and car purchases.
The chart below shows that in Q1 2008 taxable sales at retail outlets in Marin fell by 3.9%, or $29.3 million compared to Q1 2007. This is similar to the decline in California as a whole, which saw a 4.5% fall in total sales.
The next table details where the recession was starting to hurt. The stores that were suffereing were those that depend on a strong housing market. Home Furnishings and Building Materials each saw declines in excess of 11% over the previous year. Motor Vehicles was the other big loser, with a sales hit of 11.6%, which we know continued and led to the closure of a number of car dealers across the county. Winners are the gas companies, with a 14.6% gain on the back of rising prices.
Interesting to see that not all retailers were suffering back at the beginning of 2008. Apparel sales were holding up, and people were still going out for dinner - sales at Eating and Drinking places increased by 3% over the previous year.
When we look at sales by city in the table below, it's the towns with the car dealers, and hardware and furniture stores that took the biggest hit. Half of the sales decline hit San Rafael, with the rest mostly falling on Novato and Corte Madera. Meanwhile, the second tier retail towns - Larkspur, Mill Valley, San Anselmo - managed healthy increrases in sales, as people continued to go out to eat, and buy their everyday necessities and services.
Come back this time next quarter to see how these trends play out.