Consumer confidence, which helped nudge President Barack Obama to re-election victory in November, has dipped again to its lowest level since July in the midst of the Christmas retail season, news agencies report:
Marshal Cohen, chief research analyst at NPD Inc., a market research firm with a network of analysts at shopping centers nationwide, estimates customer traffic over the weekend was in line with the same time a year ago, but that shoppers seem to be spending less.
"There was this absence of joy for the holiday," Cohen said. "There was no Christmas spirit. There have been just too many distractions."
Foremost among the causes is concern about the impact of the looming "fiscal cliff," which will bring both tax hikes and spending cuts. President Obama has abandoned negotiations for his vacation in Hawaii, and GOP leaders were unable last week to unite their caucus behind a compromise proposal that conceded tax hikes on those earning more than $1 million annually. Barring a late breakthrough, the "fiscal cliff" will happen.
Other factors include continued sluggish job growth, the lingering effects of Hurricane Sandy, and nationwide depression over the Sandy Hook shootings, according to analysts, which may be encouraging shoppers to avoid crowded public spaces. The phenomenon was more pronounced on the East Coast, according to anecdotal reports, while shoppers continued to pack malls in Los Angeles, where California's unemployment rate dipped below 10 percent for the first time in four years in modest but uneven economic recovery.
Americans will turn their attention this evening toward the true meaning of Christmas, leaving worries about the economy and the nation's future behind, if only for a few sweet hours of reflection, comfort and joy.