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Americans spending more on cars, clothing and furniture

Juli Niemann Dec 13, 2011

Jeremy Hobson: The government said this morning that retail sales jumped last month for the sixth straight month. Americans spent more on cars, clothing and furniture — and spent less on building materials, gas and groceries.

That’s where we’ll start with Juli Niemann, analyst at Smith Moore and Company. She’s with us live from St. Louis as she is every Tuesday. Good morning, Juli.

Juli Niemann: Morning, Jeremy.

Hobson: So six straight months of increases in retail sales — what do you make of that?

Niemann: Everything’s a little more modest than expected. We’re going shopping, but we’re having lunch at home before we go out — or dining out under the arches. We’re being smart, we’re spending within our means. We’re using savings; we’re not piling on debt. And we’re really still concerned about wage growth, because there’s no real wage growth. And we’re really concerned about employment as well — job growth is likely to slow down early next year.

Bargain buying is the key thing, because you’re demanding discounts. Stores are even refunding price differences; that really clipped Best Buy, they took it on the chin for that reason. But it looks like Black Friday, after Thanksgiving, was probably the high water mark for this season’s retail sales.

Hobson: And Juli, the Fed is starting a meeting today — and finishing a meeting today. They’re going to come out with some notes and an announcement this afternoon. Do you think that they’ll look at this stuff, this latest data, and see an improving economy, and say: it’s time to end the zero interest rate policy?

Niemann: I think they’re going to see that the past moves are finally having some effect after four years of flooding the system with easy money — zero percent interest rates — and the banks still didn’t lend, they’re fearful the economy would turn again and they’d be caught with the next round of bad loans.

But in March, they started lending again, and it’s up nearly 5 percent since then. And this is another sign that we’re crawling to recovery here. It is led by small businesses, which is always the pattern. But the Fed doesn’t want to squash the growth, and they still have an eye on Europe, so they’re going to stamp the minutes of the meeting “ND… nothing done.”

Hobson: Juli Niemann, analyst at Smith Moore and Company, thanks as always.

Niemann: You bet.

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