The tempered expectations, earlier discounting and lowered profit outlooks from retailers come even though there are indications that the economy is recovering. The job market is making strides. The housing market is starting to come back. And the stock market keeps hitting new highs.
But so far, those improvements haven’t been enough to shore up consumer confidence. In fact, Americans’ confidence in the economy is at its lowest level since April.
“Stores know that they are well into a fight,” said Ken Perkins, president of the research firm RetailMetrics. “The vast majority of consumers are distressed.”
Not that there aren’t glimmers of hope that Americans will spend again.
Retail sales were up 0.4 percent in October, after being flat the previous month, according to the Commerce Department. Americans spent on big ticket item such as cars and furniture, but that may have left them with less room for more discretionary times like clothing this holiday season.
Overall, The National Retail Federation expects retail sales to be up 3.9 percent to $602.1 billion during the last two months of the year. That’s higher than last year’s 3.5 percent growth, but below the 6 percent pace seen before the recession.
Retailers say economic worries continue to weigh on shoppers heading into the holiday shopping season.
“We continue to see anxiety regarding the economy and the ability to stay within household budgets, particularly among lower and middle-income consumers,” said Kathee Tesija, executive vice president of merchandising for Target, which trimmed its annual profit outlook on Thursday.
In particular, some Americans still are getting used to smaller paychecks because of a 2 percentage point increase in the Social Security payroll tax that started on Jan. 1. That means that take-home pay for a household earning $50,000 a year has been cut by $1,000. That was a concern Wal-Mart noted on Nov. 14 when it lowered its annual profit guidance for the second time in three months.