Weak Personal Spending Figures: Forget about a Christmas Spending Spree

by: Zacks Investment Research

On Friday, the figures for personal income and spending came out, and it is a continuation of the long series of bad economic news we have been getting.  In real terms, consumer spending has not risen since May, and has been down in three of the last four months.  

The increase in May was probably entirely attributable to the stimulus checks.  The reason for the poor spending is a lack of income.  Disposable personal income has plunged recently, although it was very fractionally higher in September.  This data confirms the awful data we got yesterday from the GDP report which showed Personal Consumption Expenditures falling at a 3.1% rate in the third quarter.  

Keep in mind that the worst of the credit crunch did not happen until after the fall of the house of Lehman Brothers in mid-September.  The numbers for the month of October should make the September numbers look like the good old days.

The obvious losers from this data are the Retailers.  Put simply, Santa is being held prisoner by the boogey man in Halloween town.  Christmas this year will be mostly a religious observance, not a spending spree.  Stay far away from the whole group, but especially the mid-range firms like J.C Penney (NYSE:JCP), Target (NYSE:TGT), Kohl's (NYSE:KSS),  Limited (LTD), Gap (NYSE:GPS), Macy's (NYSE:M) and Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE:ANF).  

A few smaller names to avoid would be Hibbett Sports (NASDAQ:HIBB), HH Gregg (NYSE:HGG), Charlotte Russe (CHIC) and Cost Plus (NASDAQ:CPWM).  Discounters like Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) and Costco (NASDAQ:COST) will have an offset of people trading down, but taking a bigger slice of a shrinking pie is still a tough game to play. Also avoid the retail focused REITs, after Christmas, there will be a whole lot of stores shutting down, and big sections of empty stores in a mall is not good news for the owner of that mall.

Personal Income, Current Dollars
May June July Aug Sep
1.9 0.1 -0.8 0.4 0.2

Disposable Personal Income: Current Dollars
May June July Aug Sep
5.7 -1.8 -1.0 -1.0 0.2

Disposable Personal Income: Chained Dollars
May June July Aug Sep
5.3 -2.5 -1.6 -1.0 0.1

Personal Consumption Expenditures: Current Dollars
May June July Aug Sep
0.7 0.5 0.0 0.0 -0.3
   Personal Consumption Expenditures: Chained Dollars
May June July Aug Sep
0.2 -0.2 -0.6 0.0 -0.4