Marketplace Scratch Pad

Let’s do the numbers

Scott Jagow Dec 11, 2009

Do-dee-duh-doo-dah. Lots of data out today, and most of it is encouraging, although the jury’s still out on retail. Looks like shoppers are playing chicken with their favorite department stores.

Retail sales had a bigger jump than expected in November, but the first week of December was, to quote one analyst, “like the middle of August out there.” People are waiting for stores to drop their prices.

The last couple years, retailers had soooo much inventory, they were willing to offer deep discounts early in the holiday season. This year, the recession forced them to manage their inventories better, and as a result, they’re not as anxious to get out the red markers. Customers aren’t budging either. More from the Wall Street Journal:

Nine of 10 people waiting to finish their holiday shopping are doing so to get discounts of at least 50%, according to a survey released Thursday by UBS and market researcher America’s Research Group Ltd. A third of respondents said they are holding out for a 70% discount…

“If we don’t have to do it, believe me, we’re not going to do it,” said Kay Krill, chief executive of women’s clothing chain AnnTaylor Stores Corp. Its Ann Taylor and its Loft outlets have discount banners “ready to go” should consumers need an incentive to shop, she said.

Bawk-bawk. Bawk-bawk.

Marketplace senior editor Paddy Hirsch tells me he’s playing chicken with his favorite clothing store. So far he’s holding out, but the look on his face tells me he can’t do it much longer. How about yourself?

We’re also keying on business inventories outside of retail. From AP:

Businesses unexpectedly increased their inventories in October, halting a slide of 13 consecutive declines. The small gain, along with a fifth straight increase in sales, raised hopes that businesses will begin restocking their depleted shelves, helping support the economic recovery.

This is significant. An increase in inventories is a very positive sign. Meanwhile, China’s industrial production climbed 19% from a year ago, a signal that China’s economic recovery is purring along. That’s backed up by the fact that import prices in the US increased for the fourth straight month.

Of course, none of this means much if the job market doesn’t pick up. January and February should be very interesting in that respect.

Here’s more on the Journal’s retail story:

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.