CARTS: Chicago Fed Advance Retail Trade Summary Background
The Chicago Fed Advance Retail Trade Summary (CARTS) tracks the U.S. Census Bureau's Monthly Retail Trade Survey (MRTS) using a mixed-frequency dynamic factor model to combine high-frequency time series from five private companies (Consumer Edge, Facteus, Morning Consult, Safegraph, and Womply) as well as two federal agencies (the U.S. Energy Information Administration and the U.S. Census Bureau). By using multiple sources of information, we predict the MRTS in real time more accurately than consensus forecasts, baseline autoregressive models, and other high-frequency data. For details about how we construct the index and test its accuracy, see “Tracking U.S. Consumers in Real Time with a New Weekly Index of Retail Trade.”
More on the CARTS
In the top left panel below, we compare CARTS with the MRTS, showing that our weekly index closely tracks the monthly level data from MRTS. In the other five panels we show how retail spending (both the CARTS and MRTS) responded to the waves of Covid-19 cases in 2020 and 2021. This figure highlights the value of having a weekly retail spending index. Monthly indexes mask substantial week-to-week variation in retail spending. For example, in March 2020 our weekly index identifies a stockpiling effect, which is not noticeable in the averaged monthly spending data from the MRTS.
Sources: Chicago Fed staff calculations based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Energy Information Administration, Consumer Edge, Womply, Facteus, Morning Consult, and SafeGraph; and University of Oxford, Our World in Data, from Haver Analytics.
We can also compare our index to other measures of retail spending from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) and Opportunity Insights (see “Tracking U.S. Consumers in Real Time with a New Weekly Index of Retail Trade”). Our index tracks retail spending with less volatility than the BEA measure and provides a less biased measure of retail spending than other measures constructed using retail spending data from a single source.
Sources: Chicago Fed staff calculations; and U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) and Opportunity Insights data from Haver Analytics.
Lastly, we can compare the recent (2020–21) values of the CARTS against historical trends, highlighting the sharp decline in retail spending during the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent rebound, concentrated around the three rounds of stimulus checks in 2020 and 2021.
Sources: Chicago Fed staff calculations based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. Department of the Treasury, Consumer Edge, Womply, Facteus, Morning Consult, and SafeGraph.