Hey brother, can you spare a coupon?

February 28, 2013

Remember those green shoots? Ever since Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke uttered those words in response to the first signs of recovery from the Great Recession in 2009, many forecasters – including Fed officials – have consistently overestimated the economy’s strength.

Some economists believe 2013 could finally be a break-out year. With the fiscal cliff now in the rear-view mirror and the euro zone crisis apparently stabilized, some see the prospect that growth could actually exceed expectations for the first time in a long while.

Dennis Lockhart, president of the Atlanta Fed, said this week he sees a chance the economy might actually surpass his 2013 growth forecast range of 2-2.5 percent.

“If momentum continues and some of the potholes out there are avoided (particularly a political crisis around fiscal decisions), growth could accelerate,” he said.

If he were watching trends in Internet coupons, might he see a different story? Coupons.com CEO Steven Boal does.

Customers are printing out and using Internet deals at unprecedented, and surging, rates, he says, citing an Internet coupon index his firm has developed. The index tracks how often consumers print out coupons the first time they see them, and how often they then use them. The coupons tracked by the index are for 20 percent to 30 percent off. As consumers pinch more pennies, the index rises, Boal said.

“The first time we saw a real rise and a sustained level was right before the (last) recession,” Boal said in a telephone interview. This time, he says, the rise in coupon use is “just completely out of the box…I’m afraid for the American consumer.”

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