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Retail sales mixed: but watch the surging web traffic

A customer leaves Wal-Mart with his purchased items on November 28, 2013 in Troy, Michigan.
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A customer leaves Wal-Mart with his purchased items on November 28, 2013 in Troy, Michigan.

Amid the excitement of better-than-expected December retail sales, the data was actually mixed. Most of the growth came from clothing (up 1.8 percent sequentially), internet sales (up 1.4 percent), food (up 0.5 percent), and healthcare (up 1.6 percent), which offset drops in electronics and furniture, and general merchandise (department stores).

As for the big question—namely, how much are stores losing to online—the answer is simple. Internet sales are growing.

Here's the bottom line: the government said retail sales for all of 2013 was $5.087 trillion, up 4.2 percent from 2012. Non-store retailers (internet sales) were at $450 billion, up 10.3 percent. Internet sales increased more than twice as fast as overall sales.

Of $431 billion in adjusted sales in December, non-store retail sales (internet sales) were 39.1 billion, which is 9.1 percent of total sales. In December of last year, it was 8.6 percent.

Elsewhere

1) Weak sectors: the only S&P Sector in positive territory this year is Healthcare, up 1.5 percent, as biotech, hospitals and HMOs have all been in positive territory.

Elsewhere, large swaths of the S&P have sector-specific issues. Retail stocks have been hurt by markdowns that are now extending into January; energy stocks have been hurt by low oil prices and a glut of natural gas; telecom, home builders and other interest rate sensitive stocks hurt by uncertainty about the direction of interest rates; and emerging markets and commodity stocks (steel, coal) have been hurt by weakness in China.

Sector performance in 2014:

Retail stocks down 5.4 percent

Oil & Gas down 5.5 percent

Telecom down 4.5 percent

Emerging Markets down 4.8 percent

Steel down 5.7 percent

2) Japan stocks play catch-up: the Japanese stock market was closed yesterday, but the Nikkei closed down 3.2 percent.

3) Bank earnings were solid but not spectacular, with little growth.

Wells Fargo reported an absolutely in-line quarter, with earnings of $1.00 vs. consensus of $0.99, revenue of $20.67 billion was exactly in-line. It's the 16th straight quarter of profit growth. The stock is up 30 percent in last 12 month, largely on multiple expansion. Residential mortage origination was $50 billion, well below the $80 billion in the third quarter.

JPMorgan reported earnings of $1.30 (GAAP) vs. $1.35 consensus. Mortgage production was weaker (mortgage origination volume was down 42 percent) but not way out of expectations. There were large litigation charges in Q3 which did not show up in Q4, so expenses were down notably.

Bottom line: until rates go up banks are not going to get significant spreads. Sure, we can hope that volumes ramp up, but with low rates higher volume will affect margins.

4) GameStop leading the laggards in pre-market trading, down about 12 percent after reporting new software sales during the holiday period fell short of expectations. New games sales plunged 23 percent due to a greater than expected decline in sales of games for Microsoft and Sony's previous generation consoles. The company now expects Q4 '13 profit of $1.85-$1.95 per share, versus Street expectations of $2.14.

4) Intuitive Surgical surging about 10 percent in pre-market trading after the company reported it expects both Q4 and full-year revenue above Street consensus. The company now expects Q4 revenue of $576 million, versus estimates of $549 million, and full-year revenue of $2.26 billion, versus estimates of $2.23 billion.

By CNBC's Bob Pisani

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  • A CNBC reporter since 1990, Bob Pisani covers Wall Street from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

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