Thursday, November 5, 2009

Rising Productivity, Euro Sales, Falling Wages - Consumer Is Getting Squeezed

Three pieces of news out today and while we all know the take that the media will take on these is wildly optimistic, bringing buyers into the market, my take is all three are actually a commentary on a European/U.S. consumer that is being squeezed at work, spending less, feeling less confident and making less money.  None of these are good signs for the bulls.

Some sobering data about the recovery:  Retail sales post surprise fall
As the recovery gets underway, the key component - the consumer - is missing.  This is primarily the result of the policies pursued both sides of the Atlantic - namely preserving the status quo structure, implementing policies that only benefit the few while increasing the debt burdens of the many.
LONDON -- Retail sales in the 16 countries that use the euro fell for the third straight month in September, indicating that, with unemployment on the rise, consumer spending has yet to provide a support for growth.

The European Union's statistics agency Eurostat said Thursday that sales volumes in the euro zone fell by 0.7% in September from August and declined 3.6% from September 2008. The decline was unexpected, with economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires last week estimating that sales grew 0.1% on a month-to-month basis.

The August data were revised to show a 0.1% fall on the month, having previously recorded a 0.2% drop.

Consumer confidence has rebounded from its collapse early in the year, but rising unemployment will likely be a drag on spending for many months to come.  Sales of food and drink fell 0.9% on the month and 2.3% on the year, while nonfood sales declined 0.6% on the month and 4.1% on the year. In the 27 EU member countries, sales fell 0.4% on the month and fell 2.5% on the year.

Productivity Surge Signals Job Growth to Follow was the headline.  
The Labor Department said on Thursday that productivity surged at a 9.5 percent annual rate, the quickest pace since the third quarter of 2003, as companies squeezed more output from a smaller pool of labor to hold the line on costs.
Isn't this a different way of saying that there is no topline growth in the economy and companies are squeezing profits by cutting costs.

Meanwhile, deflationary pressures continue to filter through wages.
Unit labor costs fell 5.2 percent last quarter after declining 6.1 percent the previous period. Analysts had forecast a drop of only 4 percent.

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