Shopping, Dropping Your Wallet

Photo Credit: x-ray delta one (Creative Commons)

The American consumer has endured a relatively lengthy time when disposable income has been, in a word, weak. What impact would the following situation have? As you’re heading for the parking lot at work, they stop you at the gate. Before you can pile into your car, you must fork over 4% of your paycheck. It gets worse. You grumble as you drive away and pull into the parking lot at your favorite retailer. Now you’re greeted at the door and you discover there’s now a “cover charge.” That’s right. If you’re going in to spend $100, your new friend at the door will take $2-4, depending on how good of a mood they’re in.

Huh?

Science fiction? What’s next? A retinal scan a la Tom Cruise and another surcharge depending on a quick database search and your estimated net worth?

The payroll tax holiday is over. (Subject for another day but I don’t think we should do “payroll tax holidays”, ever.) Effective, January 27, merchants in 40 out of 50 states can assess a 2-4% surcharge for the privilege of using a credit card.

You can’t make this stuff up. But Issue 11 at Value Line, chock full of retailers, is probably as good as any time to talk about big pictures like aggregate consumption — and by definition, the relative health of the U.S. economy. As we chug through the updates this week, we notice things like the 3-5 year low price forecast for Coach (COH) dropping to $70 from $85. That may seem like a molehill, but the change in annualized total return forecast is a drop from 15% to 10%. We’ll certainly be taking a closer look at the collective opinion on Coach, from the consensus, Morningstar and S&P.

Share prices shares of companies like Macy’s, Target, J.C. Penney, and Best Buy performed horribly toward the end of 2012. As we slog through the updates, we’ll be watching for continued fundamental deterioration on a company-by-company and industry basis.

We’d call that five percentage point sag in the Value Line opinion material.

Some economists expect a few percentage point hit on GDP between tax increases, transaction cost offsets and the continued influence of deleveraging.

“Despite a deal to avert the fiscal cliff, consumer sentiment fell once again in early January, the University of Michigan’s index revealed on Friday. The decline, which follows a hard drop in December, was mainly caused by households with annual income below $75,000, as U.S. consumers face an estimated 4% contraction in disposable income because of tax increases in the first quarter. And it wasn’t just sentiment that dropped, as both the current conditions and the expectations indexes took a tumble in what can only be defined as a disappointing report.” — Forbes

Do you know what’s in your wallet? Come to think of it — do I even know where my wallet is?

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