November 25, 2007

Bad Economy? Not So Far, Although Good Luck Reading About It

As a presidential election draws near, the opposition party inevitably begins talking about how poor the economy has begun. This election has seen an early start to this kind of talk, recalling the 2004 rhetoric about how the rebounding US economy then resembled the Great Depression -- laughable in retrospect and educational in review. It appears that Christmas shoppers have both laughed and learned this weekend as well:

The nation's retailers had a robust start to the holiday shopping season, according to results announced Saturday by a national research group that tracks sales at retail outlets across the country.

According to ShopperTrak RCT Corp., which tracks sales at more than 50,000 retail outlets, total sales rose 8.3 percent to about $10.3 billion on Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, compared with $9.5 billion on the same day a year ago. ShopperTrak had expected an increase of no more than 4 percent to 5 percent.

"This is a really strong number. ... You can't have a good season unless it starts well," said Bill Martin, co-founder of ShopperTrak, citing strength across all regions. "It's very encouraging. When you look at September and October, shoppers weren't in the stores."

Retailers expected a boost between 4-5% on "Black Friday". They got almost twice that, as shoppers flooded the malls on the day after Thanksgiving, the traditional kickoff of the Christmas shopping season. Consumers shrugged off the credit crunch and the rhetoric of the doom-and-gloom Democrats, who promise that poverty lurks just around the corner.

One might think that this would make headlines -- but despite the AP's report, few of its clients appear to have selected it for the Sunday papers. The Washington Post carries nary a word of the surprise result, although its business page still has a warning from Saturday that shoppers may not have materialized on Friday. The New York Times misses the story as well, but it does helpfully warn investors that good sales may not make for a good stock purchase in the retail industry. The Los Angeles Times also skips the meta-story, instead focusing on the anecdotal. David Lazarus went to Anaheim Plaza mall -- not exactly a bellwether of retail patterns -- and asked a whole dozen people about their spending plans for Christmas.

Well, with analysis like that, who needs actual data? Apparently not the nation's three biggest newspapers. Even with the AP supplying them the data and the story -- which CNN saw fit to publish -- the newspapers can't allow the idea that the economy may still be strong to reach American voters, not even as a balance with that wonderful anecdotal reporting of David Lazarus.


TrackBack URL for this entry: