business news in context, analysis with attitude

The Conference Board yesterday said that its consumer confidence index decreased to 92.6 from a revised 98.3, more than anticipated, "as Americans became rattled by the recent increase in COVID-19 cases and its effect on the economy and the job market," Bloomberg writes.

According to the story, "The latest reading of sentiment adds to evidence of a slowing in the pace of the economic recovery from the pandemic as the virus interrupts reopenings in several states. Fewer than a third of respondents in the survey said they expected better business conditions and more jobs in the next six months, evidenced by an elevated number of Americans collecting jobless benefits.

“Looking ahead, consumers have grown less optimistic about the short-term outlook for the economy and labor market and remain subdued about their financial prospects,” Lynn Franco, senior director of economic indicators at the Conference Board, said in a statement. “Such uncertainty about the short-term future does not bode well for the recovery, nor for consumer spending.”

In a separate story, Bloombergreports on a new survey concluding that even as the US economy reopens - admittedly in fits and starts - "Americans aren't much interested in going out and spending … When asked about their social plans after the economy fully reopens, more than half said they weren’t looking forward to going to a movie theater, sporting event, concert or show."

The story goes on:  "Americans - often stereotyped around the world as confident to the point of arrogance - have developed a fear of enclosed retail spaces. While about three-quarters of U.S. adults feel okay shopping inside grocery stores or small businesses, more than half don’t feel safe inside a shopping center, the data show. This is only adding to the woes of malls.

"And that new preference for smaller retailers appears to have staying power: Even once the pandemic ends, nearly 30% of Americans say they plan to buy more from small businesses than they did before the virus."

Bloomberg writes:  "Bars, in particular, have lost their appeal, with half of U.S. adults not even a little bit looking forward to grabbing a beer when the lockdowns end. That apprehension comes amid a recent surge in cases tied to drinkers spreading the virus. Around 100 people were recently infected from just four bars in Minnesota, and another 100 cases are linked to one watering hole in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

"Americans appear less fearful of restaurants, but even then, roughly two-thirds say they’d feel better about eating indoors at an eatery that required employee masks, new kitchen cleaning protocols and spaced-out tables."

KC's View:

I wish I didn't feel this way, but I am in synch with the people in no hurry to go out.  I realized yesterday that with the exception of weekly trips to Stew Leonard's, two trips to a Mexican restaurant 13 miles away to do curbside pickup, and one drive to a hiking  trail about a dozen miles away, I haven't been more than four miles from my house since February 26 … which is a huge change from my past life.  I've not been to a restaurant or a bar or a theater of any kind and have no plans to … which also is a huge change from my past life.

(I'm not complaining.  I continue to have several gigs, and my office always has been in my home.  I'm one of the lucky ones, and I do not take it for granted.)

I just think it is going to take a long, long time for people to start to have any sort of confidence about going out and exposing themselves to potential jeopardy.  And retailers are going to have to factor that into both their short term and long term strategic planning.

It won't be everybody, of course.  The Bloomberg story makes the point that "when the lockdowns fully come to an end, it’s those youngest Americans who will be first out the door. The survey shows 29% Gen Z consumers are looking forward to returning to restaurants, with about one in four getting excited about concerts and movies - more than any other cohort."

Which isn't surprising.  Young people often think they are bulletproof.  But they're not.  Not by a long shot.