Last week's comparable store sales weren't awe inspiring by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, for the most part they were down right ugly. And yet the market responded well to numbers like Nordstrom's -13.5% because it wasn't as bad as it could have been. Heck, Nordstrom was up 10% on the day, and I don't think it was just because I mentioned them on television and radio. Apparently down is the new up.
If you looked at the patterns in last week's data, it was pretty easy to see that the consumer isn't having a good time. The best results and the only positive comps continue to come from the value avenues: Wal-Mart, Aeropostale, Fred's, Ross, TJX. On my store checks, the store with the most bags in the mall is continually JC Penney - even in the high end malls, and they still are experiencing negative comps. And among the higher priced outlets, the only place I'm seeing truly strong response to product is J Crew. Bravo to Mickey Drexler and friends. If my budget was better (and I lost 20 lbs), I'd be shopping there too.
So this morning's dismal retail sales report shouldn't have come as too much of a surprise. And yet... This was a little worse than even those who think the glass is two-thirds empty had to have been expecting. I'd heard a lot of buzz that auto sales were going to be positive this month... ummmm no. Scanning the internals of the report, the only positive numbers came from food and health stores. Electronics were down over 5%.
Maybe I'm being stubborn here, but I continue to fail to see any reason to get excited about this market or economy as of yet. Yes, I know the market climbs a wall of worry. And yes, I know the old adage that you don't fight the Fed. But there are more boooby traps in this economy than in a bad spy thriller. Geithener and Bernanke aren't Bond or Indiana Jones. We're not getting to happily ever after without more bloodshed.