Two obvious conclusions:
- Growth of retail spending tends to correlate with attitudes, but
- The correlation is sporadic. Specifically, the two concepts diverged in the early 1980s and again in the early 1990s.
For my money, I'd rather look at consumer fundamentals than surveys--we economists are trained to look at what people do, rather than what they say. Right now the fundamentals are not as dour as consumers are:
- Employment roughly flat (down by tenths of a percent the last few months)
- Wage rates rising about in line with inflation (just tenths of a percent lower than total inflation)
- Unemployment rate below its long-run average.
The bad attitudes are certainly not good news; but the bad news is moderately bad, not terrible.