The holiday shopping season hasn’t even officially begun, yet pessimism is already prevailing: Some experts have predicted this year’s sales increase will be the worst since 2009, the year the recession officially ended. Major retailers such as Walmart (WMT) and Best Buy (BBY) are warning investors the current quarter will be soft. Deep, early discounts (including a $98, 32-inch flat-screen TV from Walmart) could also negatively affect retailers' bottom line.
The National Retail Federation expects 33 million people will shop online and in stores on Black Friday. Holiday sales will rise 3.9% compared to 3.5% last year, the NRF calculates. This is a higher estimate than other forecasts including ShopperTrak, which projected just a 2.4% rise.
The government reported Wednesday that retail spending in October rose a better-than-expected 0.4%, with gains at retailers including clothing, furniture, electronics and sporting-goods stores. The news prompted JPMorgan (JPM) to declare in a recent client note that “October is a good start for 4Q consumer spending.” But for Howard Davidowitz, a longtime retail analyst and chairman of Davidowitz & Associates, a consulting and banking firm, the retail sector looks bleak.
“This economy is in trouble,” he says in an interview with The Daily Ticker. “The middle class is crushed. The only growth area in this economy is poverty.”
Davidowitz argues that the low-wage, part-time jobs that have been created in the U.S. over the past few years have done little to boost economic growth and individuals’ personal welfare. Even the stores that cater to the middle- and lower-income classes – such as Walmart – are trimming profit forecasts because of a “challenging” retail environment.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that employers added 204,000 workers to their payrolls in October. Job growth averaged 190,000 per month over the prior 12 months, according to the government. Nearly 27 million Americans worked in part-jobs last month and 11.3 million people were unemployed.
Not all consumers are struggling – Davidowitz says Americans in the top 10% income bracket will be busy spending their money next month. Luxury retailers such as Tiffany (TIF) and Michael Kors (KORS) will be two of the big winners this holiday season.
“If I’m upscale, I’m a happy camper,” says Davidowitz. “The top end will do great.”
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