It was curious to see the immediate complacent stock market reaction to the FOMC remarks that the Fed is going to keep rates low for an extended period (although it did crumble right before the close of trading). Yes, the central bank will have a tricky balancing act when it has to mop up liquidity, so there is a lot of hand-wringing about inflation down the road. But the subtext is that the big risk is deflation. And Japan has never had to worry about mopping up liquidity, it had and still has to worry about creating demand.
Some new sightings on the “where have all the consumers gone” front. The Financial Times reports that Americans are cutting back at the grocery store, even on pet food. That tells me that despite the effect of cash for clunkers and a pick-up in luxury spending, the average consumer is belt-tightening, literally and figuratively:
Tights, sunglasses and boneless chickens have joined the list of casualties of America’s economic crisis, as the era of impulse shopping gives way to more wary behaviour in the nation’s grocery aisles.
Americans unwilling to pay extra for their food to be prepared bought $65m more whole frozen chickens in the third quarter than a year earlier, and $50m fewer boneless birds…
“Instant gratification” categories such as sunglasses and tights registered some of the steepest declines…
Men, keen to look sharp in the office as the country faces its highest unemployment rates for a generation but unwilling to spend on the salons that had enjoyed a male grooming mini-boom, bought 28 per cent more hair-care products at grocery and pharmacy chains.
“The old world was about instant gratification, but in the new world consumers are making a shopping list . . . They’re less impulsive,” Ms Thompson said. “Changes in shopping behaviour suggest some new habits may be emerging.”
The complex interchange of financial and emotional impulses is being felt even by the nation’s cats and dogs as consumers traded down from “wet” pet food, but then supplemented their animals’ more basic diets with snacks “so they still feel good about it for their animals”, Ms Thompson said…
A trend away from eating out led to a 70 per cent jump in the number of ice cream cakes sold, as more children’s birthday parties took place at home. Ready-to-eat popcorn purchases were up 55 per cent and sausage dinners up 27 per cent as more evenings were spent in front of the television.
Popcorn and sausage dinners notwithstanding, some Americans remain willing to pay up for a healthier diet. So-called performance drinks, such as protein smoothies and vitamin-enhanced water, were up 67 per cent, or $7m, at the expense of cola sales.
My own data point is I stopped at Whole Foods last night on the way back from visiting a buddy in the hospital, and the lines were long at 9:30 PM. But New York is afloat on TARP funds, and Whole Foods is still cheaper than ordering in.
Another factoid courtesy DoctoRx is that 63% of Americans expect to spend less on holiday presents this year than last year. And remember, last year people had just witnessed the meltdown. More findings:
The Discover U.S. Spending Monitor fell 3.2 points in October to 85.8 (based out of 100). The decline was primarily due to a rising number of consumers concerned about the state of the economy. Overall, 56 percent of consumers rated the economy as poor, a 4-point increase from September. Forty-six percent of consumers felt economic conditions were getting worse, a 3-point rise from September and the first increase reported since July.
Concern over personal finances also rose in October, as 27 percent rated their finances as poor, a 4-point increase from September. Forty-nine percent felt their finances were getting worse, a 1-point increase from September.
The decline in economic and financial confidence was greatest among women, which may be a concern for retailers heading into the holiday shopping season. The Monitor has shown that spending intentions are tied to economic and financial confidence, and so far, numbers suggest consumers, especially women, are anticipating cutting as much if not more of their holiday spending as they did last year . . .
For the seventh straight month, less than a majority of consumers have money left over after paying monthly bills. In October, a Monitor-low 44 percent planned on having money left over, a 3-point drop from September. Furthermore, 41 percent were expecting an added expense or income shortfall in the month ahead, a 3-point rise from last month and the highest since December 2008.
This is a pretty new survey, but the results are far from encouraging.