Shop Talk

Retailers, consumers and prices

Check Out Line: Are consumers spending?

March 27, 2009

Check out the latest, somewhat confusing, figures on consumer spending.ECONOMY-DOLLAR/PIZZA

The Commerce Department said U.S. consumer spending increased 0.2 percent in February, in line with market expectations, after rising 1 percent in January. That makes two straight months of gains.

However, after adjusting for inflation, consumer spending in February fell 0.2 percent.

The data also showed that incomes fell by 0.2 percent after January’s revised 0.2 percent rise. Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast incomes to fall 0.1 percent.

So is this good news or bad news about the state of the consumer?

Here is what Robert Blake, senior currency strategist at State Street Global Markets, had to say:

“There were some revisions to the prior month. In real terms, January was now even stronger than we first thought, but the February number in real terms was actually weaker. Net-net, we are looking at possible spending in the first quarter in real terms that was positive, possibly, a 1 percent gain…which would signal that the consumer has gone a long way to recover from the absolute calamity in the second half of last year when consumer spending dropped 4 percent at an annual rate. So it was a positive report.”

And here is a somewhat different take from David Sloan, an economist with 4Cast Ltd:

“Personal spending was reasonably strong with upward revisions but that was to be expected given the retail sales data we have already seen. The fact that personal spending has outpaced income in the last two months raises the question whether it can be sustained. I would not say we have seen a bottom, the economy is probably not declining as quickly as it was, but I think the economy is still declining. I think consumer spending could manage a marginal increase in the first quarter but I don’t think we can be confident there will be another increase in the second quarter — there was exaggerated weakness in the fourth quarter and we have seen a bit of a correction in the first quarter.”  

Also in the basket:

Finish Line quarterly profit tops Street view

J.C. Penney Seeks Recessionista Brides with OurWeddingDay.com  (The Dallas Morning News)

A Downturn Wraps a City in Hesitance (nytimes.com)

(Photo: Reuters)

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