So how much did weather influence July retail sales? Significantly, said Scott Bernhardt, COO of weather tracking firm Planalytics.
Not that every section of the country suffered the same effects. However, the overall picture was of a cold, rainy month that put a real damper on retail sales.
The northeastern quadrant of the United States was particularly hard hit and took a notable place in the Planalytics record books. Bernhardt noted:
The Northeast had the second coldest and fifth wettest July --basically, terrible weather for most of the region -- while the Southwest had the sixteenth warmest and thirty-ninth wettest July, basically normal, for the region as a whole.The rainfall was normal, but the temperature was up there, although it was must worse in the interior. "Even people who have been living in Phoenix for a long time say it feels like a frying pan," Bernhardt said.
The Southeast had a rough time of it too, experiencing chilly days interspersed with sweltering ones and precipitation that made the atmosphere less than conducive to shopping.
"It got very hot in Atlanta, but they had rain," he noted. "So for stores, it was more of a wild ride, but still a net negative as all along the East Coast."
Summing it up, in its Weather Call report for July, Planalytics stated that the month across North America came in as the coolest in 17 years with all four weeks trending chillier than last year and the typical temperatures. This created what the firm characterized as a "difficult" environment for businesses trying to sell summer merchandise anywhere but the western quarter of the country. In fact, for multi-department retailers, weather suppressed demand by 17 percent on Planalytics ratings scale. Specialty apparel retailers had it even worse, at 19 percent.
Results at Kohl's bear this out. In reporting its second quarter sales, Kohl's noted that the Southwest enjoyed an increase in comparable stores sales, those in stores open for at least a year. Everywhere else, comps decreased, particularly in the Southeast. Similarly, in reporting its second quarter results today, when comparable store sales fell by 9.5 percent, J.C. Penney acknowledged that the Southwest was its strongest region while the Southeast generated the weakest revenues.
After the U.S. Department of Commerce reported a July sales slide for retail, few looked deep enough into the numbers to properly credit the effect of lower gasoline prices and unusual weather. While some market observes will tell you that Wall Street must factor in those facts when it values retails stocks, that's not necessarily or even largely the case when activity focuses on specific statistics and the average reaction of the market to them. And Wall Street isn't the only institution ignoring the weather.
Bernhardt noted that on Wednesday its paper child, The Wall Street Journal, offered an article about declining energy prices that failed to point out how northeasterners had barely used their air conditioners in May, June or July. In some of those areas, including metro New York and Philadelphia, in some years, those air conditions get broken in as early as April. Yet, the recession was the notable culprit behind the slump in electrical usage, according to the Journal.
"Certainly the weather had something to do with that, but they missed it completely," Bernhardt said.