The Census Bureau has informed the Federal Reserve Board that it no longer will collect the monthly figures on which the Fed bases its statistics for retailer credit.
The bureau told the Fed last week that it lacks budgetary authority to continue to collect the figures of consumer accounts receivable of retailing firms.
July's figures, which now are being tabulated, will be the last monthly ones which the Census will assemble, it said. From now on, the bureau intends to present the data only on an annual basis.
The Fed, and retailers, will try to persuade the bureau to reverse its decision. A Fed spokesman said yesterday that "everyone is concerned" and that the Fed will act on it.
Susan Flack of the American Retailers Association said "we think it's absolutely necessary data."
A year ago the Census Bureau proposed dropping the series as part of a cost-cutting move. After several months, it seemed that the bureau had changed its mind -- because it continued collecting and reporting the data -- and some staff members talked about cutting costs by simplifying the data forms rather than by switching from a monthly to an annual collection.
Press reports in October 1979 said that the monthly collections would continue, and both the Fed and the retailers' association said yesterday they had thought the bureau had reversed its decision.
But Shirley Kallek, associate director for economic fields at the Census, said yesterday that there had been no reversal of the decision. Some staff members of the bureau must have misunderstood, she said.
It was only when revised forms for collecting the data were submitted for approval that she realized the data still were being collected, she said.
The confusion continued in a memo prepared this week by Fed officials which said that the bureau last October had "decided to continue the monthly series" after discussion between Fed and Census officials and requests to the Commerce Department by many retailing associations.
The memo went on to say that when the bureau drew up its proposals for changing the forms to submit them to the Office of Management and Budget, "The issue was raised that the 1980 Census Bureau budget as approved by the Congress had contained no authority for continued collection of the retail credit data."
In a meeting of the Federal Reserve consumer advisory council on Thursday, a resolution was passed urging the Fed to do whatever is necessary to ensure that the figures are collected.
The council includes some consumer interests, some creditors and some specialists on financial affairs.
The memo from Fed officials to Fed Governor Nancy Teeters said although "the staff feels that annual data would permit continuation of the board's retail series," it would constitute only the minimum input necessary.
The memo adds, "Had the monthly Census series been scrapped in the fall of 1979 as originally planned, there would have been no reliable aggregate industrywide data on the monthly performance of retail credit during the period before, during and after the board's program of special restraint on consumer credit."
Retailers for whom credit sales are half of total sales would have extreme difficulty if the series were discontinued, according to a spokesman from the American Retailers Federatation yesterday.
Kallek said it would be quite easy for another agency to request the Census Bureau to go on collecting the figures and to reimburse the bureau out of the agency's budget. "It is always difficult" to decide to get rid of a series, she said.
The Fed is to discuss the possible options next week, a spokesman said.