What Cheer? Consumers More Glum Than Ever

Retailers have been hoping that we’d enter the annual Festival of Shopping with higher spirits than last year, but it looks like that might not happen after all. The Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment index was updated today, and it shows a drop to 66.0, “well below October’s reading of 70.6 and a sharp reversal of the 71.0 figure economists had expected.”

It’s not too hard to see why, considering unemployment is at a 26-year high and expected to remain above 10% well into next year. Some other measurements as reported by Bloomberg:

The gauge of current conditions, which reflects Americans’ perceptions of their financial situation and whether it is a good time to buy big-ticket items like cars, decreased to 69.6 from 73.7.

The index of consumer expectations for six months from now, which more closely projects the direction of consumer spending, dropped to 63.7 from 68.6.

“Consumer Sentiment in U.S. Unexpectedly Decreased” [Bloomberg]
“Prelim Nov Reuters/Umich Consumer Sentiment Tumbles to 66.0 “ [Interactive Investor]
(Photo: cwbuecheler)


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  1. catskyfire says:

    Nice angry cat picture.

  2. SkuldChan says:

    It was like a year or two ago I discovered that children didn’t need big expensive presents at Christmas or birthday because a) they often didn’t remember who bought it for them anyhow and b) often the packaging was just as fun.

    So now I just get them cheap stuffed toys or action figures. It may seem from the outside to be heartless, but my nephew’s favorite toy to this day is a stuffed toy cat I bought him last Christmas – he won’t go to bed without and it cost like $5.

    • RogerTheAlien says:

      @SkuldChan: My family has done the one-or-two gifts only for Christmas. The reason isn’t remotely monetary, either, though that it is a beneficial side-effect. We do it because Christmas as a holiday is NOT about presents. That’s the consumer(ist) in all of us.

      We see it more as a time for togetherness. Especially with parts of the family living around the globe, most of the fun is just seeing everyone. The presents are just kind of perfunctory. I think this is a lesson that children should be taught early. It’s that whole “the REAL meaning of Christmas” thing.

    • henrygates says:

      @SkuldChan: ABSOLUTELY! Kids like simple toys because they can be creative and do a lot more with it. Parents are brainwashed into thinking their kids want fancy expensive toys by the big corporations. They won’t want fancy expensive toys until they get older, and then they only want them because they’re old enough to be brainwashed themselves.

  3. Trulymadlyme says:

    It’s because everyone is terrified of the shitty job market and unemployment. People will not move, spend, etc. until they feel like their job situation is somewhat stable.

  4. Coelacanth says:

    I’ve basically adapted in moderating non-essential expenditures, and I never used to be much of a “consumer” of frivilous goods anyway. However, I’m (not-so) secretly hoping that other people return to their spendthrift ways.

    At least it’ll end the recession faster, allowing the people who actually learned a thing or two to prosper.

    • bohemian says:

      @Coelacanth: I have always seen my frugal habits as a way to financially put myself ahead of others who don’t have these habits.

      A good example is another couple we know that used to buy every meal somewhere or order pizza. They also went through a ton of beer and rum every week. Like cases and gallons. We make most of our own meals and really don’t drink that much, maybe at social gatherings. Then they couldn’t figure out how we could afford a house and two decent cars but they couldn’t when we made about the same amount of money they did.

  5. Kimaroo - 100% Pure Natural Kitteh says:

    I’m waiting to see what happens.. If people come in for Christmas loans I know that they will be spending money.. if they don’t, I know it will be another slow year for everyone.

    Last year was slloooowww. But this year so far people are spending more money than they did last year.

    Thats one of the interesting things about my job, I actually get to somewhat see people’s real spending habits.

  6. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot says:

    I’m not surprised. As consumers we’ve been having Christmas Hype shoved down our throats since August, and if that doesn’t breed cynicism, I don’t know what will. I’m ready to throw in the towel, tell everybody on my “list” that I’m boycotting Christmas, and hang a “DO NOT DISTURB” sign on my door until Jan 1.

  7. ARP says:

    Much of it is media/politics related. The party out of power wants to convince you that things are horrible and that you need to vote for them to make it better/ less bad. Happens on both sides.

    The media likes any story that scares you or shows people suffering (which they are, don’t get me wrong) That makes people even more spendthrift and more angry.

  8. princesspineisempowered says:

    I got laid off from my job last November and the lowering of gift expectations made it the best Christmas ever! I gave away my homemade jams and bought a gallon of raw honey from a nearby farmer for $12.00 and divided it into pint mason jars. Made cookies and chocolate covered pretzels that rivaled Gertrude Hawks in appearance and flavor. We bought a small balsam fir in a pot and decorated it and kept it as a houseplant. We spent more time together relaxing, playing games and enjoying each other. The whole pressure of spending money for the best present ever and endless shopping was gone.

  9. tailstoo says:

    But the stock market is doing so well. I hear yacht sales are up.

  10. vastrightwing says:

    With retailers trying to rip us off more and more, banks fee-ing us to death, phone companies charging for data we don’t use, cable companies over billing us and keeping entertainment prices through the roof, insurance companies refusing claims, etc…. yes Virginia, retailers are going to suffer this year. I’m doing my part by not buying anything except maybe a bottle of spirits or two.

  11. axiomatic says:

    “Glum”? I think “Smarter” is what we all have become. Screw these vultures.

  12. critters says:

    It’s a mixture of annoying and amusing when I read that the “experts” were expecting a better response from consumers in the current economic environment.

    Jobs continue to be lost, homes continue to be foreclosed upon, credit continues to be tight (not necessarily a bad thing) or ridiculously offered (29% With fees!) and there’s little indication that the Wall Street/Banksters “boom” is going to trickle down anytime soon.

    Just because some economic brainiac in some government office decided to announce the recession is over, green shoots are sprouting, and happy days are here again, doesn’t necessarily make it so. I mean, weren’t we hearing that the fundamentals of the economy were strong just before the sucker crashed?

    It’s almost as if these so-called experts don’t inhabit the same planet or, at the very least, their ivory towers are so high they have no concept of what’s actually happening on the ground below them. What they’re selling, we ain’t buying. We really can’t afford it anymore.

    • ARP says:

      @critters: The problem is that the GDP is the primary measure of our economy. It’s used as a sword (Obama- the recession is over) and shield (Bush- there’s no recession). I keep saying what’s needed is a “meta” measure of our economy. So put economic measures into a few different categories: Employment and Salaries/ GDP, export, and productivity/ Debt and Savings/ Government Debt/ Stocks, Bonds, Derivatives, etc. So for Employment and Salaries, we’d look at unemployment rate, discouraged workers, mean salaries (not average since that gets skewed by the wealthy), etc. Each of those feed into a score (1-10, 1-100,etc.), which then feeds into a Category Score for Employment and Salary. Do that for each major category and you have enough detail to figure out where the strengths and weaknesses are within the economy without over/under simplification. If you want to break it out, its easier to do.

  13. Zydia says:

    duh. These reports always seem to be surprised that people actually make long term decisions as opposed to how they “feel” at the moment. Anyone fiscally sane isn’t going to base their spending habits on just how the economy is doing now, they’re gonna look at what’s coming up next. Inflation. More joblessness. bah humbug

  14. edrebber says:

    You might as well spend it now, before the government taxes you in to oblivion.

    • blandname says:

      @edrebber:I’m more worried about the dollar being inflated into worthless Monopoly money, the problem is taxation has been insufficient to cover spending for some time now. Congress can’t put discretionary foreign wars and goodies for all on the national credit card for ever.