Weekly reports from chain store sales point not only to a lackluster holiday shopping season but also to weak post-holiday bargain hunting. Chain store sales fell 0.2 percent in the last week of December, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers, while data from Redbook Research pointed to a 0.7 percent decrease.
Despite this disappointing performance, truck tonnage managed a small gain in November, according to The American Trucking Associations. On a seasonally adjusted basis, ATA's truck tonnage index improved to 112.0 (year 2000 = 100) in November from 111.1 the previous month. The index grew 3.3 percent compared with a year earlier, marking the second year-over-year increase in eight months and the largest gain since January 2005. Year-to-date, the tonnage index was 1.7 percent lower than during the same period in 2006.
Outlook for the first quarter remains cloudy. Factory production shrank in December for the first time in nearly a year as tighter lending conditions and a slowing economy took their toll, according to a national survey published on Jan. 1. The Institute for Supply Management's manufacturing index, which had already slipped considerably in the second half of 2007, plunged to 47.7 in December, the weakest since April 2003. A reading below 50 points to contraction. A drop in new orders also hinted at softening demand, darkening darkened the outlook for the overall economy.
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