Consumer Spending Will Shrink For The First Time In Nearly Twenty Years

Consumer spending, the engine that powers our economy, is probably going to shrink for the first time in nearly two decades, says the NYT — a move that will “all but guarantee” that the current economic crisis will deepen.

From the NYT:

In response to the falling value of their homes and high gasoline prices, Americans have become more frugal all year. But in recent weeks, as the financial crisis reverberated from Wall Street to Washington, consumers appear to have cut back sharply. Even with the government beginning a giant bailout of the financial system, their confidence may have been too shaken for them to resume their free-spending ways any time soon.

Recent figures from companies, and interviews across the country, show that automobile sales are plummeting, airline traffic is dropping, restaurant chains are struggling to fill tables, customers are sparse in stores.

When the final tally is in, consumer spending for the quarter just ended will almost certainly shrink, the first quarterly decline in nearly two decades.

The Times says that when the government releases the numbers this month, they are expected to show that consumer spending shrank by 3%, which would be the steepest decline since 1981 and the only decline since 1990.

Consumers are apparently buying more groceries, enjoying fewer meals out, and spending less on clothes, school supplies, and air travel. Nintendo Wiis, however, are still flying off shelves.

“My view is that when consumers get concerned about their nest egg, or their country, they need entertainment,” said Bo Andersen, president and chief executive of the Entertainment Merchants Association, which represents distributors and retailers of home entertainment products.

Full of Doubts, U.S. Shoppers Cut Spending [NYT]
(Photo: robinryan )