I'm always suspicious of trend stories like a Bloomberg piece that says folks in the 100K-300K income level are reigning-in spending. The evidence - shrinking stock portfolios, falling property values and smaller bonuses - just seems wobbly. But for what it's worth, Bloomberg says it's happening and that it portends "a steeper slowdown than originally forecast for the U.S. economy, or even a recession." That's because the richest fifth of American households accounts for almost 40 percent of consumer spending.
Sales growth at high-end retailers, running at annual rates above 10 percent early this year, slowed in the last three months and dropped to 3.3 percent in October, says the International Council of Shopping Centers. Sales of luxury goods excluding jewelry rose 5.7 percent in October over a year ago, down from 8.5 percent the previous month, according to SpendingPulse, a sales measure compiled by MasterCard Advisors, a unit of MasterCard Inc. SpendingPulse is based on aggregate sales activity, not MasterCard's financial performance.
What's not pointed out is that these numbers tend to gyrate quite a bit and that last year's sales were extraordinarily high, making year-over-year comparisons a bit iffy. The piece gets even flimsier with the comments of Marc Engel, a Chicago retailer who sells Versace, Hugo Boss and Jean Paul Gaultier. "Business is not like it was before,'' he says. "The money is not so loose in people's pockets. But it's still OK.'' Still OK? What does that mean? I shouldn't pick on Bloomberg - this is the time of year when reporters desperately try to make heads or tails of the economy. But the exercise is fraught with peril because the economy is virtually indecipherable these days. Of course, who wants to read that?