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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

November 27, 2009 at 10:05 AM

Caution and big stakes unwrapped for holiday shopping season — what’s your vote?

Top of the News: So-called Black Friday makes for theater — entertaining, and sometimes frightening (photos of a nation that once made things and added value reduced to a hoard of “consumers” fighting over toys made in China). As an economic indicator, it’s virtually meaningless.

This has been true throughout my career, and it’s become more so in recent years. After 2001, growth in sales projected through December invariably turned disappointing once the real numbers came out in January. Last year the bottom fell out: retail sales suffered a 9.9 percent year-over-year collapse.

This year has to be better. The National Retail Federation predicts “only” a decline of 1 percent this season, vs. last year’s dismal showing and the 3.4 percent gains during the prior years of the past wage-stagnant decade (but there were those home-equity loans to tap).

Better this year, maybe. In October, the Reuters-University of Michigan Survey of Consumer Sentiment showed that respondents’ personal finances worsened for the thirteenth consecutive month. It was the deepest and longest in the survey’s 60-year history. Plans to buy big-ticket items faded.

A big drag this year will be the jobs crisis, as well as continuing high levels of household debt, even though consumer credit has been falling at an annualized rate of 7.2 percent. RGE Monitor opines, “The poor health of personal finances, labor market uncertainty and the ongoing household balance sheet repair will continue to promote frugal behavior by U.S. consumers.”

The stakes are extremely high for local neighborhood retailers and downtown Seattle, and here’s a chance for Seattle shoppers to vote their values. My wife and I will be doing all our holiday shopping at downtown or local neighborhood shops, as we always do.

I went into a downtown location of a major national retailer to shop — wanting downtown to prosper — and talked to the manager. She’s a turnaround specialist, brought in to fix this location or, more likely, close it if the holiday season disappoints. It’s a key location downtown and its loss will be like a pulled tooth.

This holiday season I plan…(survey software)

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Dubai’s bubble pops

While our zombie mortgages

Sheik on down the Street

Comments | More in Retail

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