Consumers support the economy. And if they stop spending?


Basic retail sales fell 1.7% in December, the highest volume in almost two decades.

Blame the stock market chaos of December. Or the beginning of the closure of the government. Or even "problems" in the data, as did the White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow last week.

Regardless of the cause, the sudden apparent change in spending has pushed economists to upset their growth forecasts. Goldman Sachs lowered its GDP estimate for the fourth quarter to 1.9%. Bank of America has reduced its forecast to 1.5%.

It's a cruel reminder of how it's not just the likes of Amazon (AMZN), Macy & # 39; s (M) and Best buy (BBY) who depend on American buyers.

"The American consumer is holding the global economy on its shoulders," wrote Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer at Bleakley Advisory Group, late last week.

This may seem exaggerated. But remember that consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of the US economy, which is the largest in the world. China is facing a sharp slowdown, Germany's annual growth is at its lowest level in five years, Brexit continues to weigh on the UK and Italy is in recession.

"We'd better hope this is an outlier and that the rebound in equities … is boosting consumer spending," Boockvar said.

It should not be shocking that the Americans are cutting spending by the end of 2018.

Not only did Washington tarnish what would become the government's longest partial shutdown in US history, but the nascent Nasdaq collapsed into a bear market. Recession-related concerns, which seem exaggerated in retrospect, have caused the S & P 500's worst December since the Great Depression.

The weakness of the retail trade shows how fears of recession can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. There is a feedback loop, positive and negative, between consumers and the market. High prices encourage buyers to spend – and vice versa.

Michelle Meyer, an American economist at Bank of America, said that a sharp deterioration in consumer confidence was the "biggest negative confidence shock" recorded since 2011.

"The consumer is starting 2019 on an unstable basis," Meyer wrote to customers late last week.

Jan Hatzius, chief economist at Goldman Sachs, warned that the magnitude of the decline in retail sales "increases the risk that the underlying rate of growth in consumer spending has dropped significantly."

But Hatzius thinks that the December retail wreck could prove to be an exception, as January's economic reports point to a rebound.

Fortunately, the tragedy of the government's closure is over and the stock market is on fire.

Boosted by the suddenly patient trade negotiations between the Federal Reserve and China and the United States, the S & P 500 had its best start in the 30-day trading year since 1991, according to the Bespoke Investment Group. The Nasdaq has climbed 12% so far in 2019. And the Dow Jones is only 4% below the Oct. 3 record.

In other words, the confidence shock should ease, paving the way for a rebound in consumer spending.

But beware of the next market storm. If this lasts long enough, it could be enough to reverse the economy.

2. Buffett watch: Berkshire Hathaway (BRKA) is expected to announce gains next Friday. If history is a guide, Warren Buffett will publish his annual shareholder letter the next day.

Buffett's letter is read closely for his investment advice. This year, the memo will be used to better understand the slowdown in economic growth in the United States and around the world and what it means for businesses and markets.

A little tidbit that could also be explained: last week, Berkshire revealed to have sold all of its $ 2 billion stake in Oracle (ORCL) after holding the investment for only a quarter.
3. More recipes on the menu: It's another week piled up for food income. Domino & # 39; s (DPZ), Jack in the box (JACK), Wendy (MAGNIFYING GLASS) and Dine Brands (DIN), owner of IHOP and Applebee, are all on the bridge.

Other fast-food and fast-food restaurants explained how digital investments, delivery programs and menu innovations took place in 2018. Expect these companies to do the same when you're in business. they report the results.

For Domino & # 39; s, digital and delivery are an asset and a way to try to maintain a competitive advantage like Pizza Hut. A few weeks ago, Domino's announced a time-limited initiative that uses artificial intelligence to reward internet users who buy a pizza, even if it comes from a competitor. Investors may want to know how digital technology paid off last year.

4. Coming this week:

On Monday – US markets closed for Presidents' Day

Tuesday – Walmart (WMT) reports earnings
Wednesday – CVS (CVS), Jack in the box and Cheesecake Factory (CAKE) declare earnings
Thursday – Deutsche Telekom (DTEGY), Barclays (BCS), Baidu (BIDU), Domino's and Wendy's report results
Friday – Berkshire Hathaway (BRKA) earnings

Danielle Wiener-Bronner of CNN Business contributed to this report.

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