Although we review much of the Census Bureau’s research, the only release we write about regularly is the Advance Retail Sales Report, which tracks consumer spending month by month.
There are some issues with this report, but it is the most timely data we have. For one thing, it is extremely noisy. So noisy, in fact, that it has a slightly negative month-to-month correlation, meaning that your best guess for an upcoming month is often the reversal of the last. It is also heavily revised, sometimes by 150% from one month to the next, and it is not adjusted for price fluctuations.
But it does break the monthly data into thirteen broad categories, and provides both a headline print that includes all spending, and an ex-auto line item excluding, you guessed it, autos and parts. Analysts generally take out gasoline as well, since its price fluctuates so widely. Finally, there is the core number, which strips out autos, gas and building materials, and is used in computing Gross Domestic Product.