Important Message Retailers Are Sending Us About the Economy

Consumer Spending Hits Trouble TerritoryConsumer spending in the U.S. economy is highly correlated to consumer confidence. If consumers are worried about the economy, they pull back on their spending.

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index decreased by 1.63% in February from January. (Source: Conference Board, February 25, 2014.) And we see the corresponding pullback on consumer spending in weak U.S. retail sales.

Macy’s, Inc. (NYSE/M) reported a decline of 1.6% in revenue in its latest quarter—which includes the holiday season. For its just-completed fiscal year, company revenues were up by only 0.9%. (Source: Macy’s, Inc., February 25, 2014.)

Sears Holdings Corporation (NASDAQ/SHLD) reported a decline of 12.6% in revenues in its latest quarter. Yes, I know this company is having problems; but a drop in revenue of 12.6% for a retail giant like this—and during the holiday shopping season—is an indicator that consumer spending is very weak. (Source: Sears Holdings Corporation, February 27, 2014.)


Target Corporation (NYSE/TGT) reported revenues fell by 3.8% in its last fiscal quarter. (Source: Target Corporation, February 26, 2014.)

Best Buy Co., Inc. (NYSE/BBY) is in a very similar situation. The company reported a decline of more than three percent in revenues for its latest quarter. And for the 12 months ended February 1, 2014, Best Buy’s revenues fell 3.4%. (Source: Best Buy Co., Inc., February 27, 2014.)

The retailers I just mentioned are just a few of the many retailers that reported a decline in their revenues in the last quarter of 2013, which suggests consumer spending is in troubling territory.

My point is that those companies that are closest to consumer spending—the big American retailers—are giving us a message that shouldn’t be ignored.

Dear reader, from my standpoint, the state of the U.S. economy doesn’t look good. Consumer spending makes up about two-thirds of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). And if consumer spending is declining, I don’t know how U.S. GDP can grow. After all, consumer spending is the backbone of the U.S. economy.

I’ve already seen some major economists starting to lower their 2014 forecasts for U.S. GDP growth. It’s only the beginning. I expect to see more cuts to U.S. GDP estimates as consumers continue to pull back on their spending this year. How the stock market can continue to rise on the backdrop of a slowing U.S. economy and slowing U.S. corporate profits only stock market suckers can understand.