I saw my first commercial last week urging people to buy Gold. Not the ETF’s, but the actual yellow metal. Don’t even remember the company, but I did get the message. The first turnings are coming with the fall season, the average TV viewer is being asked not to Sell Gold, but to Buy Gold. Like the hairy caterpillar foreseeing a harsh winter, this could be the first sign that despite the official word from our elected leaders that “All’s Well!”, the sun does not appear to be shining on our particular neck of the woods.
According to the official reports, the consumer is not yet dead. He’s not exactly skipping out the door either according to the bum sleeping under the tree outside the ER. Traffic in stores is still what I would consider moderate, but it’s a make-work type of traffic, lots of movement, very little product actually moving. Store shelves are still full, but not the kind of expectant full that we have seen in years past. Selection is thin, and when a certain style or size is gone, it’s gone. There is no more of “let me see if we have one in the back”. We have gone from “Just in Time” to “Just what you see”.
Despite the official assurances that prices as a whole have fallen, and a summer of gas prices that were so low that the bad old days could be forgotten for a while, our winter of discontent seems to be on the horizon. Grey clouds are building, the animals are adding to their burrows and the average consumer is being left to wonder if they have stacked enough wood for the coming storm or if they are going to be caught short. In far too many cases, the answer is the latter.
Consumers are caught between stagnant wages and stealth price hikes which don’t seem to be able to show up on government CPI figures, at least the headlines that are making the news. Minimum wage went up 10% but overall prices fell? My Extra Value Meal went up more than 10%, so I’m sure that my personal CPI didn’t go down.
Oil is now creeping up again, presaging a rise in gasoline prices for the coming winter. Christmas is in the traditional merry colors of red, blue and green, the frivolous mauves and pinks and silvers and gold being relegated to the tinsel and edgings. Relegated to the edges while the precious metal itself continues to climb.
Someone very astutely asked in response to an article, “What do you suggest we do now?” Unlike the animals, we have to try to plan months, years, even decades in advance for as the MetLife ad says, “What IF?” Unfortunately, we don’t have a crystal ball and much of what we are trying to plan for cannot be seen until it is upon us. It is our actions in planning for those first few crucial days then that may well determine if we are among the survivors or those who fall by the wayside. Each person has a unique set of circumstances that will determine how to proceed; no one plan will do for all. But we can all take a few precautions to be prepared for that time when it comes. The smart folks will know that nothing is guaranteed; the best things come to those who plan for the long haul and can weather the small storms in preparation for the big one. Planning is the key to winning this game as long as you remember that no plan survives first contact with the enemy. The Problem is figuring out who the enemy is.
As Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” I’m afraid that Pogo may have been more correct that even he realized at the time.