Anecdotal Evidence: Retail Thriving

[Plague kills 1/3rd of Europe. A collector is carrying away the dead on a large wooden cart.]

The Dead Collector (calling out): Bring out yer dead.

Large Man [tosses over a body for the collector]: Here’s one.   

Collector: That’ll be ninepence.

Body (wasn’t really dead): I’m not dead.

Collector: What?

Large Man: Nothing. There’s your ninepence.

Body: I’m not dead.

Collector: ‘Ere, he says he’s not dead.

Large Man: Yes he is.

Body: I’m not.

Collector: He isn’t.

Large Man: Well, he will be soon, he’s very ill.

Body: I’m getting better.

Large Man: No you’re not, you’ll be stone dead in a moment.

Collector: Well, I can’t take him like that. It’s against regulations.

Body: I don’t want to go on the cart.

Large Man: Oh, don’t be such a baby.

Collector: I can’t take him.

Body: I feel fine.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)


You read that right: In my neck of the woods, Retail actually looks "robust" 

Despite my many laments about the ongoing deterioration of the Retail sales environment and the increasingly tiring consumer, the personal experience I had today was that of a vibrant retail economy, with scores of shoppers, full parking lots and major traffic jams.

This being a Saturday afternoon, I met Missus Big Picture, her sister  and mom, for some lunch and furniture shopping. The flat screen arrived Tuesday, and the big unit it goes in will be here in 3 more weeks. We still need seating, hence today’s venture.

I met the girls at Cheesecake factory (CAKE), which was mobbed. From there is was Fortunoff’s (very busy), Macy’s (M) (moderately busy),  Best Buy (BBY) (busier parking lot than store, but still showing traffic), Sixth Avenue Electronics, PC RIchards, and Nunzios Tailoring.   

All told, the roads were thoroughly jammed, the stores were moderately full.

Two caveats: I have no idea if the shoppers were buying or just kicking the tires. (We ended up buying nothing, but the missus had me order a DVD recorder from Amazon when we got home).

The other caveat is that I live in Nassau County, which consistently shows up amongst the wealthier places in the country. So perhaps this is not reflective of what is going on elsewhere in the USA . . . 


Cool! Embeddable Google Maps! 

Removed — man, did that slow things down! 

Here’s the snap — all the open space are stores, parking lots, etc.


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What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. Old Ari commented on Nov 10

    What! no visit to the women’s shoe store?

  2. donna commented on Nov 10

    We had brunch, bought dog food, and I spent $50 on the first round of Christmas presents.

    Let the holidays begin…. we can save this country yet! (Not!)

  3. Greg0658 commented on Nov 10

    That Google Map is killing download speed. And it hits ya every back button.


    BR: Ackk! That’s terrible — I’ll yank that and replace it with a PNG

  4. Ross commented on Nov 10

    I live in the 3rd fastest growing county in the U.S. It is just east of Dallas and boarding a 16,000 surface acre sailboat/fishing lake. Homes range in price from $225,000 for a modest 3,000 sq. ft. to multimillions for lakefront McMansions. New stores springing up everywhere. New in the past 2 years are CC JCP BBBY well you get the picture.
    Through September, YoY sales tax receipts are up a modest 4.8%. The city raised property taxes about 29% in part to compensate for the shortfall in state sales tax rebates. They are also freezing hiring. Granted, taxes were raised to pay for bond interest for new roads etc. but this is the biggest tax increase we have ever had. I am a 33 year resident. Sales tax receipts in the next city to the east (11 miles) are down over 15% YoY. I guess my point is that while the great unwashed are feeling a bit of a pinch from below, even the gentry are beginning to pare back. Cool gift idea for you to consider. Northwest Territorial Mint sells Pamp Suisse palladium in one troy ounce bars that are truely beautiful. Band them in gold, hook a chain through and give it to your wife, girlfriend, mistress but not all three! It will no doubt double in value in the next 2 years. I hear palladium is hot in China.

  5. Brian commented on Nov 10

    Stores are mostly mobbed up here as well (zip 13601) but up to 30% of the store traffic is estimated to be cross-border traffic as Canadians stream across the border to take advantage of their strong dollar.

    Anecdotally, Kohls & Bonton seem to be doing the best – Target, Walmart and the rest of the discounters are struggling locally.

  6. Ross commented on Nov 10

    Can I get cruise missle co ordinates from this map?

  7. Roger Nusbaum commented on Nov 10

    Casual observation;

    I spent a good chunk of October away from home furnishing a second home. This required many trips to Walmart. Interesting (I think) phenomenon was that the parking lots were crazy busy. Open spots were far and few between, driving in front of the store guaranteed to take ten minutes (think about that) and inside was just as crazy but there was no real wait ever to check out.

    People were milling around Walmart for something to do.

    Perhaps this speaks to Barry’s tire kicking comment?

  8. Sawmill commented on Nov 10

    Ordred a new cabinet for the 52′ Aquos in August. Scheduled to arrive at Thanksgiving. It came first week of October. Seems factory orders are real slow now. Am going to follow WSJ article, and saw old TV cabinet in half, put a granite top on it, and put it into my office. Anybody want the top half of an armoire?

  9. Eclectic commented on Nov 10

    Please!… allow me. Your reproduction is a nightmare:

    (BR: I’ll swap ’em out)

    [Plague kills 1/3rd of Europe. A collector is carrying away the dead on a large wooden cart.]

    The Dead Collector (calling out): Bring out yer dead.

    Large Man [tosses over a body for the collector]: Here’s one.

    Collector: That’ll be ninepence.

    Body (wasn’t really dead): I’m not dead.

    Collector: What?

    Large Man: Nothing. There’s your ninepence.

    Body: I’m not dead.

    Collector: ‘Ere, he says he’s not dead.

    Large Man: Yes he is.

    Body: I’m not.

    Collector: He isn’t.

    Large Man: Well, he will be soon, he’s very ill.

    Body: I’m getting better.

    Large Man: No you’re not, you’ll be stone dead in a moment.

    Collector: Well, I can’t take him like that. It’s against regulations.

    Body: I don’t want to go on the cart.

    Large Man: Oh, don’t be such a baby.

    Collector: I can’t take him.

    Body: I feel fine.

    All time best Monty Python (Holy Grail):

    [King Arthur and a servant ride up to a guarded castle wall on horsey sticks, clicking together coconuts to simulate hoof beats.]

    Arthur (calling to castle guard on wall above}: I am Arthur, Sovereign of all England!… and this is my trusty servant, Patsy. We have ridden the length and breadth of the land in search of knights who will join me in my court at Camelot. I must speak with your lord and master.

    Castle wall guard (to Arthur below): What? Ridden on a horse?

    Arthur: Yes!

    Guard: You’re using coconuts!

    Arthur: What?

    Guard: You’ve got two empty halves of coconut and you’re bangin’ ’em together.

    Arthur: So? We have ridden since the snows of winter covered this land, through the kingdom of Mercia, through–

    Guard: Where’d you get the coconuts?

    Arthur: We found them.

    Guard: Found them? In Mercia? The coconut’s tropical!

    Arthur: What do you mean?

    Guard: Well, this is a temperate zone.

    Arthur: The swallow may fly south with the sun or the house martin or the plover may seek warmer climes in winter, yet these are not strangers to our land?

    Guard: Are you suggesting coconuts migrate?

    Arthur: Not at all. They could be carried.

    Guard: What?… a sparrow carrying a coconut?

    Arthur: It could grip it by the husk!

    Guard: It’s not a question of where he grips it! It’s a simple question of weight ratios! A five ounce bird could not carry a one pound coconut.

    I’d love to see them do a ‘swallow the derivatives’ version of the above.

  10. muckdog commented on Nov 10

    Just got home from shopping here in Sacramento. Stores are packed. Grocery store, Costco, Best Buy, and of course, the CAKE.

    I know, folks must be using credit.

    Did you see the study (somewhere) that 70% of those who are behind in their mortgage payments are up to date on their credit card payments? Here it is:

    People are putting their credit card payments ahead of their mortgages, said Richard Fairbank, chief executive of Capital One Financial, the largest independent U.S. credit card issuer. Of customers who are at least three months late on their mortgage payments, 70 percent are current on their credit cards, he said. “What we conclude is that people are saying, ‘Honey, let the house go,’ ” but keep the cards, Fairbank said Monday at a conference in New York sponsored by Lehman Brothers.

  11. JJL commented on Nov 10

    Not only is retail alive and well, did anyone hear about the newest salvation for the housing market? Yup, foreign buyers will end the housing collapse:

    Just like Japan was going to buy all the real estate in the early nineties, whats old is new again.

  12. Dave commented on Nov 10

    After growing up in a pretty posh neighborhood most of my life, I can tell you that Americans are all about the show. Don’t worry about this years holiday retail numbers. While they won’t blow away sales, they will still be decent.

    No one wants to lose out on the fun of the holiday season, even if it digs them in a deeper hole of debt. That includes everyone from the wealthy (some of whom live beyond their means), to the blue collars who are feeling the pressures of the credit meltdown/inflation.

    It’s really quite entertaining how much psychology plays into the holiday season. I’d say for a good majority of the people it’s more psychology than religion.

  13. NJandrew commented on Nov 10

    I was at the mall tonight (Saturday) for dinner @ Legal Seafood and some shopping and the place was packed. My wife asked if they were giving stuff away because it was so crowded. This was the Short Hills Mall in NJ and I thought it was the week before Christmas from the crowd size. Many of the stores were running sales and people might have just been out looking but the place was crazy.


  14. halbhh commented on Nov 11

    We’re not close to any border here in central Mass, and the stores were mobbed, packed and overflowing on Friday night. Giant parking lot after lot about full…

  15. halbhh commented on Nov 11

    Part II: It was such a mob scene you’d think everyone thought it was the Last Night On Earth to Go Shopping.

  16. ken h commented on Nov 11

    Look I said it to Muckdog in a prior thread.

    Don’t miss the elephant(S) in the room. Forest despite the trees?

    Housing is collapsing, credit card deliquencies are up, savings rate is…nearly zero, and gas is at an all time high!!

    Retailers are coming out and downgrading their outlooks??

    This is ancedotal like this thread but I do look at it when investing. My wife is a shopoholic and this year she and her friends are mostly done for Christmas. What is your circle actually buying?

  17. Eclectic commented on Nov 11

    How’d you get the bumper Mrs. Big Pic chained you to through the BB doors?

  18. alexd commented on Nov 11

    What is the trend in credit card delinquencies, and size of purchases, how many people are only paying the minimums on credit cards and if there is a change which way is it going and what is the magnitude of change? I understand that areas of the country that are relatively flush have $ to spend, but what is going on overall? One store or mall a trend does not make. How close to the absolute limit are credit card holders? Is the band playing as the ship goes down or is it smooth sailing? Can business afford to delay tech purchases if potential purchasers of their goods and services are seen to be holding tight to the purse strings?

    Look at the price movement of so called defensive stocks such as Clorax and Alberto Culver. Agriculture is holding up. I think tech is great but which way are the prices on stock going?

    Please tell me the answers to these questions so I can bet accordingly!

    All I have is preparation, then price and trend. Then take positions that i think are appropriate.

  19. alexd commented on Nov 11

    Oh yeah, alot of references in Monty Python/Holy Grail are to Bresson’s “Lancelot du Lac.

    “The ones who you hear before you see them will be dead in a fortnight” (Or close to that) Hence the coconuts. The blood spurting through the armor relates to the use of crossbows which could pierce a knights armor and had a strong affect on that social order. Much like the use of guns in Japan that proved to be the end of the samurai. As portrayed in “The Seven Samuri.

    On the exchanges and in the trading pits, the computer plays the same role….

  20. halbhh commented on Nov 11

    Well, to discount these several anedotes entirely, we need a couple of counterexamples. Just on the face of it, from our 3 areas reporting it looks like there is could be a shopping rebound. Remember that when most people feel concerned about the economy, they cut back for a while, their credit card balance improves some, and then they feel less afraid…. It’s just psychology. Another part of it is Americans are addicted to the rush/thrill of buying something new. We all like our toys (or equivalent).

  21. halbhh commented on Nov 11

    Make that 7 areas reporting. 6 mobbed, one mixed. It’s fairly convincing.

  22. Winston Munn commented on Nov 11

    Is this the right room for an argument?

  23. patski commented on Nov 11

    I’ll second that Sacramento anecdote, we went to Costco, World Market, Best Buy at the Roseville Mall Saturday, rainy weather and everything was packed, stores and parking lots….

  24. alexd commented on Nov 11

    Thanks Ken, very good.

    Just to share I am currently hedging using ultra short etfs. I was holding the -2x financial until midday Fri, but sold it when it looked weak, and bought the -2x qqqq. I also have the -2x consumer services etf. Yes I have long positions and have been pummeled there I suspect there might be a bit of short covering or even a possible bottom to the financials, but don’t take my word on it. I do think the the qqqq is ripe for a fall, or even the tech sector. They have lagged the decent in the financials but seem to have finally left the gate. As much as I hate to admit it it looks like a technical head and shoulders top to me.

    Lets talk about credit cards. Part of the problem with the housing market is that a lot of the problematic loans have interest rates that have been increasing due to the expiration of the teaser rate period. So people are seeing their monthly cost go up significantly. Which has caused problems.

    Now along with the the idea that a credit card default is a total washout for the bank
    which might bring the cost of credit card defaults into competition with houses on some level, it’s like leverage,(can’t repossess Prada footwear easily!)there is another aspect that should be looked at.

    Since our current administration in it’s on the take, in it’s it wisdom gave the banks what they wanted by eliminating the usuary laws, we have seen the banks create incredible rates for being sufficiently late not just on your credit card bill but on any other credit card bill and many other bills. (The democrats should have filibustered this but they lack spines)It is like a minefield, where you get an interest rate explosion. The effect on debt of a 29% interest rate is the inverse of a great hedge fund, and it occurs to people who can least afford it. We should note that the banks also did what they could to make it harder to go bankrupt. I suspect that if we go into a recession, a financial trip wire will be stepped upon. Then with many people who tend to overspend will have no credit and ballooning debt. Could be tough.

    Also the other shoe is not so much an initial financial crisis as much as a scenario where we percieve Islamic militants about to getting their hands on nuclear weapons in Pakistan. I would think at that point we would see nuclear weapons dropped in Pakistan in the areas where those weapons are stored. It would be us and or the Israelis/Indians and I am sure India would be looking the other way if we had to fly over their territory. Also Russia/England/Spain do not like Islamic terrorists too much either. That might be much worse to the markets except for gold or inverse funds than a rabbit ripping out your throat. I absolutely hate this scenario, and pray it never happens but “prepare for the worst hope for the best”.

    It is always what we can’t imagine that surprises us.

  25. a guy called john commented on Nov 11

    Window shoppers aren’t the same as shoppers. I see hordes roaming Michigan Ave. Hordes! What I don’t see as often, are shopping bags in their hands. A packed store does not necessarily equote to an overflowing cash register.

    $93.5 million revenue shortfall in Fla.

    Florida’s tax collections for the new fiscal year are off to a dismal start, a monthly revenue report indicated Tuesday.

    The state’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research said in September the state’s general revenues were $93.5 million below projections made by state economists on Aug. 1. Earlier projections were worse.

    Amy Baker, coordinator of the office, said sales-tax receipts — the mainstay of the treasury — were off by nearly $40 million a month.

    Illinois: Reports predict budget shortfalls

    COGFA does economic forecasting for the General Assembly. It found that for the first three months of the state’s new budget year — July, August and September — sales tax receipts are down by $55 million from a year ago, a 3 percent drop.

    Arizona: Republicans offer ‘50-50 plan’ to wipe out $374 million in red ink

    [L]ower-than-expected sales tax, individual and corporate income tax collections [are] the driving force behind the shortfall. The drop in sales tax receipts was particularly sharp, as the state collected $44.2 million less than projected, about 3.4 percent less than September 2006.

    Nationwide: States’ coffers are feeling a pinch

  26. ken h commented on Nov 11

    Thanks Alex,

    Agree with just about 100%. I consider myself a amatuer in the markets and I think the market is for professionals right now. Head and shoulders top, absolutely. Lots of volatility and profit taking to cover but I think nobody wants a bad 4th quarter so another rally???

    Look banks didn’t get themselves into this without being pretty sure they could lean on a “bailout”. Some may find that the spend thrift public has the last laugh. Can’t squeeze blood from a turnip.

    Ah yes, War. You know what countries in financial trouble do don’t you. With two teenage boys, I sure hope not!


  27. Cherry commented on Nov 11

    I would also argue, what they “see” as “packed” isn’t really packed.

    Traffic is a waste of time, it is the sales and money changing hands that counts(high sales moved against profit is bad business).

  28. Winston Munn commented on Nov 11

    Florida, Illinois, Arizona….I guess this means the recession is contained?

  29. Francois Theberge commented on Nov 12

    a guy named john has the right approach IMO. When it comes to retail, I’ll take sales tax receipts over appearances and anecdotes any day of the week.


  30. a guy called john commented on Nov 12

    UPS Says Expects Holiday Peak of 22 Mln Packages

    Officials at [UPS] have predicted that package volume growth in this year’s peak holiday season will be “less robust” than in the previous four years, reflecting slowing U.S. economic growth, the housing sector slowdown and expectations for low fourth-quarter retail sales growth.

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