Thursday, August 12, 2010

Fewer feeling practical…good news for the Back-to-School season?

The oil spill in the Gulf has finally been plugged, but without any concrete evidence of an economic “recovery” (you know, like a falling unemployment rate or a robust housing market), consumer confidence flatlines in August…this month, 27.8% say they are very confident/confident in chances for a strong economy, even with July’s reading (27.9%), though remaining several points below Aug-09 (31.1%). Back in pre-recession Aug-07, confidence stood relatively strong at 43.9%.

Though cleanup efforts in the Gulf continue, overall, consumers are feeling a bit more optimistic about political and national security issues…in August, fewer than one in five (19.5%) say they continue to worry, down from 21.4% in July and 22.6% in Aug-09.

It may be a hit-or-miss Back-to-School season for some retailers, as consumers send mixed signals when it comes to the economy and spending…while confidence failed to improve in August [retailers lose], fewer consumers are feeling practical [retailers benefit]. While nearly half of consumers (44.8%) still say they'll remain practical and realistic when spending, this figure has lowered 4+ points from last month (49.1%) and declined from Aug-09 as well (48.2%).

Students headed back to school may have an easier time this year convincing penny-pinching parents that they need a new netbook, e-reader, or mobile device…more than half (53.5%) still say they’re focused on necessities when shopping, but this percentage has lowered from July (58.0%) and Aug-09 (55.9%).


While confidence and the U.S. unemployment rate (remaining at 9.5%) both failed to improve over the past 30 days, consumers are feeling a bit brighter about outlook for the job market…in August, fewer than one in three (28.9%) reports there will be “more” layoffs over the next six months, down two points from July (30.8%). More than half (53.1%) feels that layoff levels will remain the “same,” up slightly from 52.2% last month, while about one in five (18.0%) hopes for “fewer,” rising a point from a month ago (17.0%).

Those concerned with becoming laid off remains stable at 3.9%, the same figure posted in June and July. The current reading remains quite an improvement over Aug-09 (7.8%).

With half (49.6%) of consumers declaring they feel that there is too much month left at the end of their paychecks “all” or “most” of the time, it should come as no surprise that paying down debt (32.8%) and decreasing overall spending (31.2%) remain the top two financial plans in August. Nearly one quarter plans to increase savings (24.3%) over the next three months, while more than one in five (21.8%) is focused on paying with cash more often.

Can talks of recovery really begin when 40.6% feel “worse off” financially compared to a year ago? (And – let’s face it – 2009 wasn’t a great year)…just over one in ten says they are better off, while 45.2% proclaim they are the same, financially speaking.

And, one final personal finance stat: more than two in five (43.5%) disagree or strongly disagree that they are saving enough to meet future needs. One-quarter (26.9%) feels they have enough money banked.

While national average pump prices have increased slightly compared to a year ago (source: AAA), consumers still seem to have eased up on the brake when it comes to spending…compared to a year ago, fewer are delaying a major purchase, reducing dining out, scaling back on vacation/travel, and spending less on groceries or apparel. That said, nearly seven in ten (68.1%) consumers overall say gas prices are still impacting other purchases.

What’s Hot…Not

Much to the relief of many parents, Back-to-School shopping means the kids are headed back to class soon, making this spending "season" what’s hot for August…Netflix, Angelina Jolie, and cupcakes prove popular as well. Women of all ages are eager to see Eat Pray Love, while those 35+ are also tuning in for Hot in Cleveland. What’s not hot in Cleveland [or anywhere else]? LeBron James…76.5% say the Miami transplant isn't a slam dunk, heating up from the 64.8% who said the same back in June.

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