January 9, 2010

Maybe the economy is getting better? December retail sales surge

I keep hearing that the economy is getting better...

I've also been wondering how Walnut Creek's retail scene did this holiday season.  Don't have any specifics on how Walnut Creek itself did, but here's a report from the Washington Post that says that retailers enjoyed a better-than-expected holiday season "as rising consumer confidence" and last-minute shopping sprees pushed sales higher in December. 

The Post cites a report from the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), a trade group that found that, in looking at three dozen of the country's biggest chains, sales at established stores increased an average of 2.8 percent in December from a year ago. And sales for the last two months of the year jumped 1.8 percent, compared with a record 5.6 percent drop in 2008--marking the strongest holiday performance in three years. The ICSC had forecast only a 1 percent increase.

Several retailers with locations in Walnut Creek enjoyed a better-than-expected season. Macy's sales rose 1 percent in December, helped by strong online sales. Nordstrom Inc. is also in this list, with a key sales figure rising 7.4 percent.

Oh, and even though it hasn't come to Walnut Creek yet, Dallas-based retailer Neiman Marcus saw sales rise 4.5 percent in December, says Business Week.


Anonymous said...

even if we are in a recovery, it is most likely going to be a "jobless" one where employment rates take a lot longer to recover.
which might be fine for the capitalists, but sucks for working people.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what "rising consumer confidence" could possibly be based on. Rising unemployment? Huge deficits and budget shortfalls? The flight of jobs offshore? Continued terrorist attacks? More war?

Seems foolish to me to be confident about consuming more stuff.

Anonymous said...

You can choose to how live your life and that is colored by your attitude toward the future. It's basically an emotional choice. If you want to maintain that the sky is falling, that gives you one perspective. If, on the other hand, you believe that the sun will come out tomorrow, you have a different and brighter perspective.

Having looked at life from both angles, I prefer the latter view.

Anonymous said...

The US is off the list. China is more interested in Brazil, India and South America. The jobs are gone. Next time your out to dinner the server will probably have an MBA. I expect my young daughter will probably attempt to illegally immigrate to India after she graduates from college...

Anonymous said...

Call me skeptical, but I think these "surge" numbers were cooked. Look in March to see these numbers quietly revised a lot.

Did my spending rise in December? Yes. I sold jewelery to buy my son a few Christmas presents. Not really a sign of recovery that.

MC said...

re: 7:35 PM

whether you do or do not have the ability to put food on the table is not an emotional choice.

Jason Wheeler said...

I believe this recession is far from over. Jobs will not come back for a long time to come.

Best to get out and turn your passion and dreams into a business.

Anonymous said...


I'm realistic. There is nothing in the U.S. right now that could possibily drive a real recovery. Robert Reich (former Dem Sec of Labor, now a professor at U.C. Berkeley) says that unemployement will remain high for the next several years, probably through the 2012 election. I'm just puzzled why people are spending more money, that's all.

Just because times are bad doesn't mean your outlook on life has to be. If you still have your health, your family, you can be thankful. The sun still comes up each day, the sun shines, and the birds sing, but it doesn't mean you have to whip out the Nordy's charge card and go on a shopping spree.

Anonymous said...

Hello MC, Jason Wheeler & 8:26:

Thanks for all of your thoughtful comments in response to my post. I have to admit that I agree with all of you.

If you're having trouble putting food on the table, I've been there too and I am sorry my post did not acknowledge the very difficult situations of many people right now.

I also agree that starting a business right now may be a good choice for many capable people that can win their futures without being at threat of layoffs in spite of their good skills.

Finally, I agree that squandering money is foolish but it is also true that people still need food, health care, clothing and education. These and other true needs will continue to drive a portion of our economy. We can also hope that fortunate people will do their share to bring us out of our current situation.

Happy New Year (I truly hope).

Anon 7:35pm

Litterbury said...

Yes. The sky is falling.

I would really like to believe that the numbers are positive, but I'm just filled with more of a sinking feeling instead.

I actually had to scale back my spending this year so severely, that it almost would have made more sense to just call off Christmas; which is pretty close to what my family did (a.k.a., me and mom).

My suspicion isn't entirely unfounded, though. Too bad that I didn't bookmark it, but I just read an article yesterday that puts the national unemployment rate at the official 10 percent mark.


The article also mentioned that when ALL unemployed people were included (which would factor in those who have given up looking and haven't made recent attempts at employment) it was estimated that the national unemployment percentage estimate jumps to 17 percent!

I actually had to do a double-take and rub my eyes to make sure that I wasn't seeing things, but there it was crystal clear. Bear in mind, unemployment during the Great Depression hit 25 percent, so if this 'all-inclusive' number holds (and I'm not saying that I even totally believe it) we're in way more trouble than the experts and pundits are allowing us to believe.

I'm also worried that there is a looming credit/credit card crisis which could obliterate any significant gains we make in the meantime which would, of course, include holiday sales data.

If I can find the article I'll be sure to post a link here in the comments.

P.S. My building manager for my apartment complex was just telling me a couple of days ago (right here in downtown Walnut Creek) that people who typically never have any problems paying their rent on time are now having real troubles; my manager said that they couldn't even believe how many people were coming into the office with financial issues. She was shocked.

Litterbury said...

This is actually one of a couple articles I read, this one being the more conservative one, but the 17 percent bit is quoted, though it's difficult to parse through exactly what they're saying. The 17 percent, here, factors in people who are part-time but wish that they were full-time, so that's kind of cheating.

That doesn't make any sense either if we're talking unemployment numbers and these are people who actually have jobs. Just because you hate your small paycheck doesn't mean that the job doesn't count!

Also, it seems unclear... Is the 17 percent monthly national totals, or a real running national total? Is there a difference, and what criteria is really being used to determine this kind of stuff?

I do think that the 17 percent could be a reasonable number to deal with, it someone could back it up with appropriate figures (pie charts and whatnot). Granted, I don't want to believe the number is real either, but I'm baffled as to why there is so much fluctuating data with -seemingly- random numbers being pulled from the clouds. 10 percent vs. 17 percent is a big difference; so are the powers that be talking about unemployed people in general, or just all the lazy ones sitting at home stretched on the sofa with a bag of chips?

I'm really cautious on the whole mess, personally. It just seems like everyone who stands to gain on beefed up numbers right now is heralding this as a new dawn. Meanwhile, all the middle-class poors just appear to be huddled together, weeping.

All I know is that everyone in Broadway Plaza is hiring right now; they're just looking for experience.

Litterbury said...

Hmph. The link appears to be cut.

The article is titled 'Report suggests a year of high unemployment ahead,' and was written by Jeannine Aversa and Christopher S. Rugaber; both described as AP economics writers, and is credited to Friday, January 8th, 5:04 ET. Google it, I guess for those that care?

Whew! I'm off to bed/my martini...

litterbury said...

Still with the martini, and almost off to bed. Here is a quote from the article, so crunch it at will:

"It was the second straight month the unemployment rate came in at 10 percent. The only reason it didn't rise was that 661,000 people stopped looking for jobs and left the work force.
In a normal economic recovery, more people would be entering, not leaving, the job market. If those people hadn't dropped out, the rate would have hit 10.4 percent in December, according to an estimate by the Economic Policy Institute.
Counting the people who have given up looking for work and the part-time workers who would rather be working full-time, the so-called underemployment rate edged up to 17.3 percent in December. The record high is 17.4 percent, reached in October.
The House has passed a bill intended to generate jobs, extend unemployment benefits and a health insurance subsidy and provide other aid. But the Senate is reluctant to go along. Republicans say Obama's first stimulus package hasn't been effective.
The December numbers complete a picture of a disastrous 2009 for American workers. The unemployment rate averaged 9.3 percent in 2009 — up from average of 5.8 percent in 2008 and the highest since 1983.
The number of unemployed has hit 15.3 million, up from 7.7 million when the recession started in at the end of 2007. The recession has wiped out 7.2 million jobs. And the number of people jobless for at least six months hit a record 6.1 million."

That's a full quote, but I still don't get it. Math is not my strong suit by the way! Still.

If the 17 percent claims are only monthly totals, and that the national average is staying average at 10 percent (more or less), then how are more jobs being lost and, therefore, unaccounted for as the article suggests, with the added problem of people giving up looking for employment in general? How is the national average hovering at only 10 percent continually? It should be higher.

The US population is listed at 308,326,000. 10 percent of that is 30,832,600. Assuming half of the population doesn't work, 15 million becomes the magic number, which this article justifies.

I get a problem, though, when the article hits at 15.3 million unemployed. If that's up from 7.7 million when the recession started, and the recession has taken 7.2 jobs, then wouldn't that add up to 14.9 million? That isn't the same as 15.3 million, and the 15.3 million isn't, apparently, accounting for 'expanded' jobless claims. That must mean that there are far more millions unemployed than being reported.

That means that we are well over 10 percent already (without monthly totals, and just working with a national average) and facing increasing unemployment as we speak.

17 percent is a monthly number being tossed; 10 percent is the national average. But, when lined up against figures neither seems to add up, unless you play creative.

If 17 percent is purely 'monthly' totals then it still doesn't entirely jive against 'real' numbers for the national/yearly percentage. It's a big made-up number, but if the article is to be taken at face-value, then 10 percent is a made-up number as well.

So. I think we're higher than 10 percent for the national unemployment rate; we're not at 17 percent (god forbid), but we are probably, in fact, way higher than most people want to accept. 17 percent may be bogus, but, then again, that means that 10 percent has to be bogus as well. That's a disturbing conclusion to reach, even if the number 17 doesn't matter in the first place.

Litterbury said...

I've since put up a more sensible take on things over at my own blog, though it is a rather lengthy read, and it does discuss the numbers in greater detail.

AKA Soccer Mom said...

Dear Litterbury,
Thanks very much for your comments, and your economic sources.
I read the same figures this morning. The 10 percent unemployment figures, and how unemployment (and I believe underemployment) has doubled since the recession officially began in December 2007.
My, oh my.
That's interesting what your apartment manager said: about people having a tougher time paying their rents.
And, I agree, that the credit card debt that many of us have (that's right, us included) is a little scary, on a personal and national level.