Shop Talk

Retailers, consumers and prices

Lessons from the 2001 recession


The U.S. government is currently putting $100 billion into consumers’ hands in the form of tax rebates, hoping the fresh cash will stave off a recession.

It’s a plan similar to the once the government followed in 2001, except at that point, the economy was already in a recession.

Back then, the National Bureau of Economic Research said the U.S.  economy entered a recession in March 2001.wmt-sign.jpg To get the economy out of its funk, the government passed a stimulus package and mailed out rebate checks over a ten-week period from late July to the end of September 2001, according to research conducted by Thomson Reuters.

When looking at the monthly year-over-year changes, U.S. retail sales started slumping in the beginning of 2001 and reached their lowest level in September 2001, according to the research report. The Thomson Reuters Same Store Sales Index registered a rise of just 0.8 percent in September 2001, but then began to bounce back once the rebate checks were mailed out, with October notching a 1.6 percent gain.

Check Out Line: Jobs jolt


clouds.jpgCheck out the loss of more retail jobs. 

Another 27,000 retail jobs disappeared in May, according to the U.S. government’s monthly employment report. That makes 152,000 retail jobs eliminated since the beginning of the year.
Overall, nonfarm payrolls fell by 49,000. But even more worrisome for the economy and for retailers could be the jump in the unemployment rate to 5.5 percent. That half-point jump was the largest such move in 22 years and brought the unemployment rate to its highest level in 3-1/2 years.
Retailer’s May sales reports yesterday were mostly better than expected, causing some analysts to think they could signal the beginning of a consumer turnaround.
But others said it just showed a blip in spending that was caused by the tax rebate checks consumers have begun to receive. 
Economic concerns could still linger after all that stimulus money is gone, they say, and things could get worse if consumers, already hit by $4-a-gallon gasoline, soaring food prices and falling home values really start to worry about their jobs.

Wonder how a half-point jump in the unemployment number plays into that?
Meanwhile, to take your mind of the jobs report, there’s always the company pep rally that masquerades as the Wal-Mart annual meeting. The world’s-largest retailer flies in employees from all around the world to help pack the basketball arena at the shopper1.jpgUniversity of Arkansas, where stars entertain the crowd (this year’s acts include Miley Cyrus), everybody does the Wal-Mart cheer, and, oh yeah, shareholders get to ask questions.
Also in the basket:
New Wal-Mart director may herald changing of the guard (Wall Street Journal, subscription required)
Target grows makeup artist brands, adds testers (WWD)

Check Out Line: More consumers see U.S. in recession


gasplane.jpgCheck out darkening consumer sentiment in the month of May.

According to the latest results of NPD’s Fast Checks Study: Consumers Speak Out On the U.S. Economy, in May, 58 percent of consumers said we are in a recession, up from 55 percent in April.

Respondents to the survey said they are planning to spend less on items like apparel and footwear. With vacation season getting underway, 49 percent of consumers said they plan to cut back on leisure travel. 

Tax rebates are here … and so are those nagging bills!


Tax rebate checks are in the mail and some of the rebate cash has already made its way to consumers’ wallets. But will this cash infusion give the economy (and struggling retailers) a boost?grocery.jpg

According to interviews Reuters conducted with consumers across the United States over the past week, the answer seems to be that most of the extra money will be heading toward the basics — like food, fuel and credit card payments — with just a little left over for splurges.

Can’t wait for that tax refund so I can, well, buy some gas and groceries


Last year, a tax refund might have been a perfect excuse to finally splurge on that luxurious Coach handbag, or dinner at that hot new restaurant downtown.

This year, that tax refund check likely means another sobering trip to the grocery store or gas station.

How does a Wall St analyst spell “recession”?


recession.jpgM-A-R-C-H S-A-M-E-S-T-O-R-E S-A-L-E-S.

The overwhelmingly dreary news today from U.S. retailers reporting March sales results was enough for Lazard Capital Markets analyst Todd Slater to utter the “R” word with gusto.

Referring to a recession in consumer discretionary spending, Slater said: “The numbers on consumer discretionary spending this month indicate that a recession is in full swing.”

Check Out Line: Is it getting worse out there?


recession.jpgCheck out the warning from J.C. Penney.
The retailer slashed its first-quarter earnings forecast and said Easter sales were well below expectations.
That may be a pretty good snapshot of where the American economy is right now. J.C. Penney says half of American families are its customers and those families are under pressure from higher energy costs, a deteriorating job market, the housing downturn and the credit crunch.
Not much news there. But according to J.C. Penny’s forecast, things are much worse than the company thought.
The warning comes the same week Williams-Sonoma Chief Executive Howard Lester said the economic environment was probably the worst he’s seen in the 30 years he has been in the business.
Oh, and Lester added this cheery note:
“We believe there are circumstances under which it could get progressively worse, particularly if we find ourselves in a protracted recession.”
Also in the basket:
Cash-rich retailers stand to gain in credit crunch
Li & Fung’s 3-Year Plan: Sourcing Giant Aiming For $20 Billion in Sales (WWD)
Office Depot Holder Group files proxy statement 

(Photo: Reuters)

Check Out Line: Retail suffers in all sorts of fashion


talbots.jpgCheck out the weak quarters at American Eagle and Talbots.

Apparently the tough U.S. retail environment is not age-specific.

American Eagle Outfitters, which sells teen apparel said fourth-quarter profit fell more than 6 percent amid weak sales, higher markdowns and competition from rivals.

The retailer also forecast first-quarter earnings well below analysts’ expectations as it has had to take higher markdown.