Consumer Sentiment Rebound on Winter Solstice

The Reuters/U of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index improved during December (wow!), and registered about the same as it did last March.  Of course gas prices and heating oil prices are lower, and it IS the Christmas holiday, and there is undeniably a “Santa-Claus effect” at work.  So it is probably not time to light the bonfires to celebrate, but it is nice to have some good news from time to time.

According to an article by Tim Iacono in Seeking Alpha this morning, “The index rose to 60.1 from a mid-month reading of 59.1, up from November’s historic low of just 55.3 as lower gasoline prices and some stability in financial markets helped to lift spirits.”  http://seekingalpha.com/article/112087-home-sales-down-sentiment-up?source=feed

Nonetheless, it is the consumer whose attitudes and energy power growth in US-style economics, so the slight recovery, if it can be maintained, is a welcome sign of life, just at the winter solstice.  From today on, the hours of daylight will get longer and longer, sometimes imperceptibly, but inexorably. 

Whether or not OPEC maintains its declared cuts, and whether or not oil begins to rebound, and whether or not home sales continue to pick up (although prices have not shown that tendency) — the natural tendency of the American consumer to look for bargains may be one of our biggest assets. 

I listen to NPR’s “Morning Edition” most days, and this morning there were two articles in quick succession that seemed relevant to the sentiment index mentioned above.  One was a brief set of sound-byte interviews with shoppers at Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s in New York.  Unfortunately those brief interviews do not seem available for replay on NPR’s website — but the essence of them was that the shoppers spent “the same amount as last year,” but got fantastic bargains as well — 70% off regular prices at Bloomie’s, according to one delighted woman. 

The second article was the final installment of a series called “American Moxie,” about a stubborn woman named Christy Webber who is bound and determined to maintain her staff of 250 landscapers through thick and thin (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=98591249), and an inspirational ex-con named Harry Jenkins who works for Webber’s company and teaches boxing at a local gym in his spare time.  One could do worse than to be a swinger of birches . . . .

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