Saturday, December 22, 2007

Christmas shopping and the state of the economy

By Libby
Updated below and again

Fester posted last week about his Christmas shopping experience. He found the parking lots and stores 75% empty. Yesterday, I finally screwed up my courage to make a trek out for the last few items on my list. My main goal was to find an angel ornament. I've bought my daughter one every single Christmas since the year she was born. I hadn't found anything suitable in the limited stores nearby my home and encouraged by Fester's experience, I expected to sail through in a couple of hours. It took six.

The traffic was horrendous and I found the parking lots 75% full, but nonetheless it wasn't difficult to find a convenient spot. The stores were also relatively crowded but people were looking, not buying. I've never overheard so many people debating on whether they wanted to spend quite so much on some item, even when it was on sale. And the sales were astounding. I've never seen such price slashing before Christmas Day. But the selections were spare. Stores definitely tightened up their inventories this year. It took me four stores to find a suitable ornament.

Most telling on the state of Christmas sales this year, was the speed at which I sailed through the checkouts. Despite the crowds, people weren't buying much. There were a dozen people ahead of me at the most crowded store and I got to the cashier in less than a couple of minutes. Last year at the same store it took close to a half an hour in a similiarly long line. But what really struck me was the dispirited mood of the people. The atmosphere was grimly determined rather than carelessly festive.

I'd note that I spent my time at the higher end speciality stores. The clerk at the convenience store I stopped at on the way home told me that the WalMart in town was so crowded, you couldn't get into the parking lot. No doubt they were there to snap up the deeply discounted items the big retailer was holding out as bait to get the last minute shoppers in. I doubt they bought many additional impulse items.

But while my sojourn into the consumer end of Christmas wasn't all that pleasant, I'm not complaining. Reading the news this morning makes me realize how fortunate I am to be able to shop at all. The thousands of homeless in New Orleans won't be having a Merry Christmas and neither will the children living in this growing tent city in Southern California. A scene I'm certain is repeated in many more places that we don't hear about. Even in my tiny town the homeless population is growing.

The White House and the materialistic conservatives who have benefited from its policies can tout the 'growing economy' all they like, but the reality on the streets presents a far more bleak picture. What does BushAmerica really look like? I think Jill has the perfect illustration for this Dickensesque Christmas and beyond to the New Year.

Update by Cernig For those who might accuse Libby of arguing from anecdote rather than facts, there's this:

NEW YORK (AP) -- With just a few days left before Christmas, the nation's retailers are in a lather to attract last-minute shoppers to salvage what has been a mediocre December.

Department-store operator Macy's Inc. has slashed prices on everything from clothing to jewelry, while Toys "R" Us is offering price cuts of up to 75 percent this weekend. At stake are retailers' profits for the year and perhaps even the strength of the economy.


..."There's been a malaise" among women's clothing sales and "it has spread to other areas," said Dan Hess, chief executive of Merchant Forecast, a New York-based research firm. "The panic button has been pushed, particularly in department stores."

And even with an expected sales surge this weekend, which traditionally accounts for about 10 percent of holiday sales, Lazard Capital Markets analyst Todd Slater expects that the last-minute spending will be "too little, too late" to save Christmas.

"When people think they are in a recession, they spend like they are in a recession," Slater said.

...Slater said that he estimates that large department stores are missing their sales plan by as much as 10 percent so far in December.
When people's pockets are as empty as this, then it's a recession - no matter how the Bush administration and its glad-handers massage the figures.

Update by Libby: McQ weighs in. He's mightily irked that the article dared mention the mortage meltdown, even though it notes it wasn't a factor in the tent city in SoCal and then takes a crack at my post.

UPDATE: Of course, dependable as dawn, the usual suspects swallow the nonsense hook-line-and-sinker and predictably blame it on Bush.

Well, how silly of me to think that Bush's economic policies have anthing to do with, you know, the current state of the economy. Kathy at Liberty Street kindly comes to my defense.

Whether the 200 or so people living in that tent city in California are there because the bank foreclosed on their houses, or whether they are there because they can't find a job or a place to live and they have nowhere else to go, the problem is an economy that forces people into such desperate situations, and a presidential administration that simply does not care.

That's the point. The Bushenomic boom is a numbers game. Sure it grew the economy but the benefits accrued to those who needed them the least, at the expense of the millions of working class Americans who find themselves one paycheck from the street. Yet the materialistic conservatives still can't understand why were not excited by the pretty charts that tell us how much more well off, the have mores have become.