Consumer Spirits Lift as Economic Recovery Accelerates
By Courtney Schlisserman – Dec 10, 2010 9:02 AM PT
Confidence among U.S. consumers increased in December to a six-month high, coinciding with stronger holiday sales that show the economy is gathering speed.
The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan preliminary index of consumer sentiment rose to 74.2 from 71.6 at the end of November. A Commerce Department report showed the U.S. trade deficit shrank more than forecast in October to $38.7 billion as growing economies overseas propelled exports to a two-year high.
Retailers such as Neiman Marcus Group Inc. have benefited during the biggest shopping period of the year as Americans grew more optimistic about the labor market. Treasury securities fell after the trade report signaled the U.S. economy is getting a boost from a jump in exports stemming from growing demand in markets like China, Brazil and South Korea.
“There’s a groundswell of good news right now,” said Jonathan Basile, an economist at Credit Suisse in New York. “That to me is a sign that households and businesses can make purchases with a little more confidence.”
Economists projected a December sentiment reading of 72.5, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey. Forecasts in the survey of 67 economists ranged from 69 to 76.5. The gauge averaged 89 in the five years leading up to the recession that began in December 2007.
The survey’s measure of current conditions, which reflects Americans’ perceptions of their financial situation and whether it is a good time to buy big-ticket items like cars, increased to 85.7, the highest since January 2008, from 82.1 a month earlier.
Consumer expectations for six months from now, which more closely projects the direction of consumer spending, increased to a six-month high of 66.8 from 64.8.
Higher stock prices this month and signs tax rates will be kept from increasing may prop up Americans’ spirits. Since the end of November through yesterday, the S&P 500 gained 4.4 percent. President Barack Obama this week agreed with Republicans to prolong income-tax cuts put in place by former President George W. Bush.
“Consumers are taking their cues from the stock market, and private employment is rising, despite November’s disappointing numbers,” said Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics Inc. in West Chester, Pennsylvania, who projected the sentiment index would rise to 74.
The National Retail Federation forecast November to December sales will rise by 2.3 percent from the same time in 2009, making it the best holiday shopping season in four years. The ICSC said it expects December sales to rise as much as 3.5 percent compared with last year.
“I would generally say that the core customer is absolutely back shopping,” Neiman Marcus Chief Executive Officer Karen Katz said on a conference call Dec. 8. Still, consumer “spending is not back up to the levels of pre- recession and we don’t have any expectations that it will get back to that level.”
The Michigan survey showed that buying plans for household durable goods rose to the highest level since January 2008. The proportion of Americans saying they were hearing of job gains rose to the highest level since 1983.
The figure is at odds with Labor Department data last week that showed November unemployment rose to 9.8 percent, the highest since April and close to a 26-year high. The economy generated 39,000 jobs after 172,000 a month earlier.
The Commerce Department’s trade report showed imports stagnated in October as U.S. demand for crude oil fell. The overall trade gap, which narrowed 13 percent, was projected to be little changed at $43.8 billion, according to the median forecast of economists surveyed. Estimates ranged from deficits of $39.5 billion to $46.6 billion.
“Trade is definitely going to provide a decent pop to growth in the fourth quarter,” Sweet said.
Exports, benefitting from a cheaper dollar, increased 3.2 percent to $158.7 billion, boosted by sales of foods, automobiles, engines and industrial supplies like fuel oil and natural gas.
Since reaching a one-year high on June 7, the dollar has fallen 6.6 percent against a trade-weighted basket of currencies. The drop makes American goods cheaper to buyers abroad and will keep spurring manufacturing, which expanded for a 16th consecutive month in November.
Growing overseas economies are also contributing to demand for U.S. goods. China, set to become the world’s second-largest economy this year, had a 9.6 percent gain in third-quarter gross domestic product from a year ago. Singapore , in the running to be the world’s fastest-growing economy this year, expanded 10.6 percent while Brazil, South America’s biggest economy, grew 6.7 percent.
General Dynamics Corp., based in Falls Church, Virginia, is seeing “strong international order activity and interest, particularly in the emerging markets,” Chief Executive Officer Jay Johnson said in a Dec. 2 industry conference presentation.
Glenbrook Hyundai, the Happy Car Store, has also started to see a turn around. Sales volume has been skyrocketing, especially with the new models that have been released including the new Elantra, Sonata and the unprecedented Hyundai Equus. Stop in to Glenbrook Hyundai, on Coldwater Road next to Red Lobster, to see these and more.