The Holiday Shopping Season is in full swing and sales are strong. U.S. shoppers increased spending over last year by 16% during the five day period between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday. According to the National Retail Federation shoppers spent an average of $362 on holiday items compared with $313 a year ago.
Driving spending is a strong job market with an unemployment rate of 3.5%, it’s lowest level in fifty years. This has led to an increase in wages of 3.1% over last year. Wages for lower income groups have been growing faster than for those in higher income cohorts. The upper crust is also feeling better about things as the stock market continues to hit record highs. One gets the feeling that this could be a record breaking Holiday Sales year. That said, the numbers may turn out to be a bit wonky since there will be six fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas but that is really more about how the counting is done than the amount of actual spending.
The economy continues to plug along at about a 2.1% GDP growth rate, down from 2018’s growth rate of 2.9%. I think we can chalk that growth rate decline up to one factor-tariffs and tariff worries. Current tariffs and concern over potential future tariffs have made it difficult for companies to plan ahead and have caused weakness in business spending on plants and equipment. The strong employment picture could be even better if companies were better able to predict what their profit margins and even prices would be moving forward. Toy companies are telling me that 2019 business is good and that they need to add people but that they are reluctant to do so until they have greater clarity on tariffs. I think this is likely true for lots of different business segments. If a trade deal with China is reached, I would not be surprised to see employment and economic growth numbers that are even stronger than they already are.
Hopefully we will have answers soon with tariffs set to be put on $150 billion of consumer goods made in China on December 15th. While much of the chatter seems to indicate that there will be a face saving partial deal at about that time there is also a lot of negative posturing being used as a negotiating tactic. Ever the cautious optimist, I am inclined to think that some sort of “skinny deal” will be announced where everyone gets to declare victory and kick the heavy lifting down the road but…..who knows? Even if a deal is announced it won’t be exactly built on bedrock. Anything can change on any given day with any groggy 4AM tweet.
In the meantime may everyone enjoy a strong “sell through season” and may you and your loved ones enjoy happy and peaceful holidays.