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Stimulus Fails to Excite

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted August 8, 2008


wake up


Oil is down.

The dollar is up.

The stock market is rallying.

So what’s not to like?

Well, for one there is the consumer. They have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.

Of course, it wouldn’t be that big of deal if consumer spending didn’t make up over 70% of U.S. GDP, but it does.

That is going to make for one rough fall in retail—-especially now that those stimulus checks have already been spent.

Here’s the skinny in that regard from MSNBC. The gov’t crack hand out has run its course.

It’s in a story by John W. Schoen entitled: Stimulus spent, retailers face tough rest of the year

“With the bulk of some $100 billion in tax rebates now deposited in American consumers’ bank accounts, the hoped-for boost in spending has proved disappointing for the nation’s retailers. As chain stores reported July sales figures on Thursday, there are signs cash-strapped households may cut back even further in the second half of the year.

When the economic stimulus package was enacted in February, analysts debated just how much of the money would translate into new spending. Now that most of the money has been distributed, it appears that much of it went to pay down credit card bills or beef up savings accounts.

“We expected that as the checks fade, so would sales,” said Goldman Sachs retail analyst Adrianne Shapira. “(Consumers are) filling up their SUVs, their home equity values are plummeting, and they’re feeling a lot of pressures.”

Those pressures may explain why the $100 billion worth of tax rebate checks didn’t give retailers a bigger lift in July. Some 28 percent of consumers surveyed in July by market researcher TNS Retail Forward said they used the money to pay off credit cards; 27 percent said they used it to pay for everyday expenses like groceries and gasoline, and 20 percent said they put the check into a savings account. Only 11 percent said they used the rebate for discretionary purchases like a new TV or a vacation.

Now, with those rebate checks spent, retailers are warily looking toward sluggish sales through the rest of the year. Back-to-school shopping is already off to a slow start, especially for new clothes.

On Wednesday, MasterCard reported that sales of clothing and shoes fell in July, as consumers stretched to keep up with rising prices day-to-day staples like food and gasoline.

“We’re continuing to see a divergence here in where the retail dollars are flowing,” said Michael McNamara, an executive with SpendingPulse, MasterCard’s retail data service. “They really seem to be flowing into the nondiscretionary areas like drugstores, food and gasoline, and it’s really coming at the expense of some of these retailers such as apparel and electronics and appliances.”

That doesn’t bode well for the holiday shopping season, when many retailers look to make the bulk of their sales and profits for the year. With wages rising more slowly than inflation, consumers will have an even harder time making ends meet after their rebate checks have been spent.

“We think that when the stimulus checks end, which is this quarter, we’re going to hit an air pocket and disposable income will take a negative hit relative to what we saw in the second quarter,” said Brian Bethune, an economist with Global Insight.”


So much for the escape from reality.

Now its time to wake up and smell the coffee.