Discretionary Income? Maybe, but it ain’t being spent (or maybe it already is?)

I am member of AAII (American Association of Individual Investors). They send out their Investor survey results every week. This weeks:
Bullish 25.58% Long term avg. 39.3%
Neutral 21.71% Long term avg. 31.9%
Bearish 52.71% Long term avg. 28.8%

We have all read exuberant stories about how wonderful Black Friday was. The WSJ is doing it’s part to promote sales prior to the event:

For those seeking a second opinion on the gloomy holiday spending outlook, here it is:A survey of 2,570 Americans with household incomes of more than $35,000 suggests that the expectations of weak holiday sales are overblown.
“The doom and gloom is overstated. Unemployment is low. Real incomes are healthy,” said Michael J. Silverstein, a BCG senior partner. “Consumers overall predict that this holiday season will be just as good, if not better, than last.”

Unfortunately this is all based on a month old survey. A time when the $3.199 I just paid today to fill the oil tank did not exist. The schizophrenic side of WSJ had this to say the next day, 11/16/07:

Fred Crawford, managing director at Alix Partners, a turnaround consultant, says: “The reason so many retailers are coming out aggressively is that they’re expecting a bad season.”

There is a nice little chart of the expectations of the big retailers with this article. They’re not to excited.

I asked at a forum only for florist and related business: How’s it going now that Thanksgiving is past?
Some responses:

“We hear a lot about how bad the US economy is doing but things are’nt great in Europe either. Retail suffered a lot in 2007 and Ireland was no different .Some times during the year I felt like tearing my hair out . It was really quiet during the summer but picked up from Sept and Nov was brilliant for me.”

“Actually, it has been the slowest Sept. and Nov. that we’ve ever had. As I said in a previous post, maybe our moving has confused customers or it’s the economy. It is really scary to have just made a hefty investment in a new building along with moving and renovation costs.”

In our area, we can tell that gas prices are affecting sales – both holiday & everyday.We filled up 2 vans yesterday at @ 3.15/gallon (OUCH!!). My local tracking trends tell me that when customers have less money to spend, they are looking for more ‘longer lasting”, “higher perceived value” items. Generally for us, that means that or fruit baskets business greatly increases, and often our plant/poinsettia business increases. We will be cautious in our fresh flower buying….staying ahead of the game, but not in too deep!

Sales in Sept. were in the expected range but October was down significantly. November is not too bad but not great. Sure hope December brings better things or I will have to lay someone off.

Our November so far, compared to the last year’s:
Local sales: up 17%, Wire-in: down 25%, Wire-out: same. Actually, it was disappointing. We usually do 20-30% better than last year’s numbers; this year is our 3rd year beginning July. The problem was the average sales price. Compared to the last year, this year’s average sales price in November is 10% down. It’s so clear. Our customers are cutting back the expense. We will use this info to adjust our price point for Christmas, which is more important than November sales.

There is an even sadder story by a shop owner of 26 yrs in Kansas who bought houses, put kids through college etc, etc and is now thinking of closing because they can’t make it.

We used to have a full business district, 3 clothing, 1 shoe, 3 hardware, 8 restaurants, 2 convenience stores, 2 pharmacies, 2 flowershops, 2 gift, 1 childrens store, 2 grocery, Dollar General, Duckwalls, and 1 lumberyard. We are down to me, 1 gift, 1 pharmacy, lumberyard, 1 grocery, Dollar General, 1 convenience, 4 restaurants. I have heard that Duckwalls and the gift store are going out of business by Jan 1. We are down to one mortuary, used to have 3. MY TOWN IS DYING! Small town america is dying.

I worked in high school for a small family retail business, and the owner noted that such businesses were always ahead (by 6 months) of the national rhetoric as to the state of the economy. My shop peaked in the summer of 2006. This year even credit card sales are down where as last year only cash was off but credit card sale were up. We were off 3.4% for the year until August hit. We are now 7.8% off. People are not even trying to spend “discretionary income”.

Here is one article quoting the National Retailers Federation concerning Maryland:

‘‘Our annual survey showed our members to be very pessimistic this season,” said Thomas Saquella, president of the 600-member state retailers group. One-third of business executives who responded to the Maryland survey predicted sales decreases during the holiday season, compared with only 7 percent in 2006. Only one-third believed that third-quarter sales provided some positive momentum for the holiday season, compared with two-thirds last year.

Referring to the accuracy of prior surveys:

If the projections are that accurate this year, this holiday season would see the smallest gain since 2002. Sales that year increased nationally by only 1.3 percent, according to the retail federation.

Bloomberg had this to say yesterday:

U.S. consumers spent an average of 3.5 percent less during the post-Thanksgiving Day holiday weekend than a year earlier as retailers slashed prices to lure customers grappling with higher food and energy costs.

And, last but not least I dropped of the shop van at my friends repair shop this morning making an appointment for the personal van. He had today and ½ of tomorrow scheduled. The rest of the weekly chart was empty. He started building a new house this past March. Now he’s feeling the pinch cause he can’t sell his current house. The new house would have been paid in full if he could have sold the current house. Best laid plans….

My sweet keep complaining about being poor (I told her she had to choose between Celine Dion and 1 of her weeks at the beach). I keep telling her we’re not poor, we’re broke. She responds with: “And why did we buy this flower shop?”

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