Consumer Spending Expected to Slip Following Market Crash
NEW YORK (AP) _ Rolls-Royces are still selling, even an occasional crocodile-skin suitcase, but analysts say the stock market collapse, which consumed $500 billion of wealth in a single day, could worsen an already sluggish year for consumer spending.
″The loss of wealth for many people will result in spending cuts,″ said Lawrence Chimerine, president of Wefa Group, a private economic forecasting service in Bala Cynwd, Pa.
The bad news was delivered early to some retailers.
″We’ve noticed a difference,″ said Mike Console, an employee at an Acura car dealership in Manhattan. The Acura is a luxury model manufactured by the Japanese automaker Honda.
Some customers who had already placed orders for Acuras ″are going into a holding pattern,″ Console said.
However, Mercedes-Benz of North America has not seen any impact on its sales, said company spokesman Fred Chapman.
At Christie Brothers Corp., in Manhattan’s fur district, customer traffic has been down 10 percent since the market’s collapse, said Constantino Christie, the company’s president.
At Fred Joaillier, a fine jewelry firm on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, Calif., customers are taking a ″wait-and-see″ approach on large purchases, but sales of smaller items haven’t suffered, said employee Sergio Baril.
And at the Thomas Cook Travel service in the World Trade Center, just a few blocks from Wall Street, vacation counselor Orly Jellinek said, ″we have had some cancellations″ that customers blamed on the market collapse.
But many people don’t appear worried about committing large sums of money for luxuries. Rolls-Royce dealerships in Beverly Hills and New York reported business has been excellent over the past week.
At Bijon, a Beverly Hills clothing store, one man bought a suitcase covered in crocodile skin for $100,000 the day after the plunge, said store manager Manijeh Messa.
″He said the market was bad, but he was comfortable buying the suitcase,″ said Messa.
Less fortunate types, even those who don’t own stocks, may be less sanguine about the collapse, according to Chimerine.
″This has created a lot of fear in people,″ the economist said, adding that ″the average person, worried about their IRA or pension account″ will become more cautious.
The Conference Board said consumer confidence dipped only slightly following the market’s plunge.
The business research organization said its Consumer Confidence Index, compiled from a survey taken Oct. 22-25, fell to 110.4 from 116.9 during the first two weeks of the month. The latest period follows the stock market’s historic collapse on Oct. 19, when stocks lost more than $500 billion in value.
The prospect of Americans reducing their spending presents a major problem for the economy since consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of the gross national product, the broadest measure of the nation’s economic health.
Just the anticipation of lower spending could be dangerous, said Jeffrey Edelman, a retail industry analyst for the investment firm Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc.
″The real question is whether companies, manufacturers and retailers get scared to death and begin cutting back indiscriminately, which would force a slowdown in the economy,″ Edelman said.
A drop in spending would be bad news for the nation’s retailers, who, along with the government, have reported sluggish sales for much of the year. On Monday, the Commerce Department said spending fell a sharp 0.5 percent last month.
Whether a spending slowdown would carry over to the Christmas season - when retailers earn half their annual profits - depends on the economy, especially on employment trends, Edelman said. Consumers who are working are more inclined to spend.
Chimerine said consumers might not buy marginal gifts and they might choose less expensive items.
But even a decision against luxury purchases by a substantial number of consumers would affect overall sales, Edelman said.
Another analyst, Walter Loeb of Morgan Stanley & Co., while saying ″people may not be buying a fur coat,″ did not expect to see a major impact on consumer spending from the stock market collapse.
He noted that retail sales generally are slow in October and early November. And when the Christmas season arrives, he expects the consumer to spend ″because he’s a sentimentalist and because he’s working.″