Plenty of economic data has been directionally positive lately, and with that we will not quibble. Improving data is always welcome, but at the same time, let’s be sure to maintain some perspective.
There’s been a sense today of hearty congratulations to the consumer for doing a fine job shopping during the holiday weekend and Cyber Monday, and for their brighter confidence during the month of November. Neither accomplishment is to be diminished, but let’s look at where we are.
Save some of the back-slapping over strong Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales because…they’re always strong, folks. Or at least that’s how they’re usually portrayed. “Holiday spenders had fast start; Sales rose 6.5% during Thanksgiving weekend, and Cyber Monday spurred a 21% increase,” blared a headline from November 2007, a month before the recession’s official beginning. “Shoppers opened their wallets; Strong start to holiday season,” sang one headline just after Thanksgiving 2008.
Yes, last year sales weren’t quite as hot, but what do you expect coming just a few months after the nadir of the Great Recession? Even so, the headlines last year crowed about how more people were actually out in stores, they just weren’t spending as much. The season has a ways to go, citizens. Not quite time for a victory lap.
Now, about that consumer confidence. Conference Board’s headline reading rose to 54.1 from October’s 49.9 (which was revised down from 50.2.) The present situation gauge of current economic conditions drifted up to 24 from 23.5 (also revised down from originally reported 23.9.)
Here comes the perspective. In November 2007, on the precipice of the slide into recession, Conference Board noted confidence fell to a two-year low…to 87.3 — yes, more than 33 points above today’s print. And the present situation measure? You had to ask. It fell to 115.4 from 118. It’s at 24 now.
Not to make you feel worse than you already do, Sunshine, but that 24 on the present situation is only 0.6 above the level in July 2009, when the recession is thought to have bottomed. And that reading was the lowest since March ’09 when stock markets melted down.
Just a little perspective.