NRF economist sees better days for retailers amid digital reinvention

The man from Cleveland strolled into a Manhattan shop hunting for two items: an overcoat and an overview. The first would shield him from the chill. The second would provide him even more intel on the state of American retail.

Jack Kleinhenz bagged both.

“I love the social interaction of the stores,” says Kleinhenz, chief economist for the National Retail Federation and principal of Kleinhenz & Associates, a financial consulting and wealth management firm based in Ohio. “It’s entertaining for me. Of course, that’s probably because of my job.

“I like to go in and just observe. On that visit, I tried on a coat and talked to some sales associates. I asked them how things are going, what’s new and how they’re doing.”

What he heard: They’re doing better.

Kleinhenz was in New York to attend NRF 2019: Retail’s Big Show. The industry’s annual, flagship event drew nearly 40,000 people to the Javits Center in January to see, sample and sell the latest retail goods and gadgetry.

In New York, Transform sat down with Kleinhenz to hear his views on the moods of both the sellers and the shoppers.

TRANSFORM: Heading into 2019, how hungry are consumers to spend their money in the stores and online?

JACK KLEINHENZ: The consumer is in a good place.

Financially, many households are in good shape. The ratio of monthly financial obligations to disposable income is still low, equal to what we saw 30 to 40 years ago, (according to the Federal Reserve Board). I think many people generally feel more secure – as far as their jobs and their balance sheets.

More broadly, we have some tailwinds going into 2019. We’re at near full employment. Wages have been increasing. Lower gas prices put more money into people’s hands to spend. And we’ve had some tax benefits, although it will be interesting to see what happens with tax refunds.

NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz speaks into a microphone.
NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz. (Photo by Jerry Masek)

TRANSFORMNew tech is front and center at NRF 2019: Retail’s Big Show. Which of these technologies have the greatest ability to elevate the retail companies that embrace them?

KLEINHENZ: It’s a great question but it’s hard to measure right now. I am seeing some interesting applications, specifically of AI and robotics.

Among the retail startups here that are using these new technologies, I’d say 15 to 20 percent of these firms could potentially be very, very successful over time.

Just look at what they’re doing. They’re making it easier and more cost effective for the retailer – and they’re making it attractive for the consumer.

TRANSFORM: What does it say to you that so many companies are investing in digital reinvention?

KLEINHENZ: That we’re not standing still.

You know, I love this line from (former racing star) Mario Andretti: ‘If everything seems under controlyoure not going fast enough.’And if (standing still) is the case, I think those companies have to move and they have to move fast. They can’t stand on their laurels. They can’t continue to operate as they have been.

TRANSFORM: What predictions about the digital revolution in retail have not come true?

KLEINHENZ: A few years ago, people would say: ‘Well, e-commerce is going to take over.’

What have we seen? We’ve seen a lot of convergence between e-commerce and bricks-and-mortar stores. They’re learning how they can be more effective in attracting consumers by having a store presence.

Retail firms are thinking: ‘No matter where I get sales, no matter what channel I get sales, that’s where I’ve got to go. So I have to do multiple channels.’ You’re not going to lose the consumer’s interest in actually going to a store, picking up an item, seeing and using that item in person.”

TRANSFORM: When you shop, what technologies do you use?

KLEINHENZ: I’m a multi-channel user. I go online and look at specific stores.

For successful e-commerce companies, if they can get you to their website, you become more loyal to them. That’s how they’re going to be successful rather than just having a consumer type a certain product into their browser and then seeing what that browser tells them.

For retailers, it’s all about creating that loyalty and that relationship. For me, I am a loyal customer of a number of retailers. I will shop online. But I also go to the stores. In fact, last weekend, I spent all day Saturday shopping with my wife, looking for an overcoat. And I found a good fit at a good price – a good day.”

U.S. retail-sales data go dark at a tough time for investors

U.S. Commerce Department/Bloomberg

The U.S. growth outlook hangs more than ever on American consumers’ resilience amid stock-market swoons and trade-war tensions, but key data on their spending — the biggest part of the economy — will be missing due to the government shutdown.

Was it a gangbusters Christmas shopping season as forecasts and anecdotal evidence suggested? Were consumers making big discretionary purchases in addition to essential spending as they entered 2019, even as some surveys showed confidence was waning? The answers will have to wait, as December retail sales won’t be released as scheduled Wednesday, Jan. 16, while the Commerce Department remains closed. Failure to reopen soon also would delay personal income and spending data, due Jan. 31.

Together, those reports constitute the most widely watched measures of household consumption, which accounts for about 70% of the economy. The disruptions come at a challenging time: Plunging regional gauges of U.S. manufacturing and business surveys indicate a slowdown in growth, and some big-name retailers have issued warnings about mixed holiday results.

While the solid job market remains a bulwark and consumers are in good shape, more — not less — information is needed to assess if the economy faces bigger-than-anticipated risks, one reason investors are nervous and Federal Reserve officials have emphasized patience in raising borrowing costs.

With no end in sight for the shutdown, a burgeoning concern is that data may not just be delayed, they may also not get collected as normal, Brown said.

For now, investors and analysts will have to rely on a patchwork of data. The Johnson Redbook report showed December sales rose from a year earlier, though it tracks a limited sample of results. The Retail Economist‐Goldman Sachs weekly chain-store sales figures are another source. Other groups provide clues on individual sectors, such as the National Restaurant Association’s monthly index.

The delay in government-issued economic releases “introduces a greater degree of uncertainty, which typically isn’t good,” said Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist at Leuthold Weeden Capital Management LLC. “It does create some real risk of misinterpretation” as people compensate with other, sometimes partial, sources of information, like a retail CEO’s comments.

The nuances in signals from consumers were evident in executive comments from Kroger Co., America’s biggest supermarket chain.

“They feel incredibly good about the economy but very nervous about where things are headed,” Chief Executive Officer Rodney McMullen said Sunday in an onstage interview at the National Retail Federation’s annual trade show in New York.

Credit-card results from companies including Visa and MasterCard would help fill some of the void. The Fed’s Beige Book release on Wednesday may also provide anecdotal details on spending and other parts of the economy. That’s why some investors are taking the data disruptions in stride.

Bloomberg

“In a world of big data, there are so many other ways to get a view of the consumer than the monthly numbers from the Commerce Department,” said David Sowerby, portfolio manager at the investment firm Ancora, which manages $6.9 billion.

E-commerce sales during the holiday season jumped 16.5% from a year earlier, according to Adobe Analytics, which measured online transactions from 80 top U.S. retailers.

No instruments

Still, companies depend on broader economic data to make investment decisions, and without it they’re “to a degree, flying without any instruments,” said NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz.

The Commerce Department’s monthly data are crucial to get a bigger picture because about 90% of retail sales come from small businesses, he said. Recently, several large publicly traded retailers such as Macy’s Inc. and Kohl’s Corp. provided discouraging updates.

“It was disappointing news, but I don’t know how pervasive that performance was,” Kleinhenz said.

The trade association itself is somewhat in the dark until the government releases the data. Without official numbers, “we can’t provide our final report this week either” on holiday spending, according to NRF spokeswoman Ana Serafin Smith.

Nearly 1 in 8 Jobs Added in November in Retail, Says Report

A good chunk of the jobs created in November were in retail — likely to keep up with holiday sales — says the National Retail Federation.

Employment in retail was up by 18,600 jobs in November, seasonally adjusted from October, said the Federation. That means that of 155,000 jobs created in the overall economy last month, nearly one in eight were in retail.

Calling the retail jobs numbers “satisfying,” the federation’s chief economist, Jack Kleinhenz, said in a statement that the boost came during and after the wildfires in California and bad weather in other areas of nation, all of which likely dragged on the sector.

The numbers were a good sign, given the context of the overall economic and national picture, he said.

“In retail, the tight labor market has created sizable challenges in hiring – there are actually more retail jobs available than there are people to fill them. Retailers would hire more workers if they could find them,” said Kleinhenz, in a statement.

Still, compared to last year at the same time, unadjusted retail employment dipped by 16,300 jobs, said the group.

And, the Department of Labor, in its job report, noted that “retail trade employment changed little” in November, noting that most of the jobs created were in health care, manufacturing, transportation and warehousing.

The total employment numbers across all sectors released Friday by the Labor Department were considered a disappointment by many, as projections were for a bigger boost.

The jobless rate for retail was 4.2 percent; the unemployment rate overall remained unchanged at 3.7 percent.

Of the total positions in retail in November, most were at department stores, warehouse clubs and other general merchandise shops, while the rest were at a variety of merchants and in online sales. Many jobs were lost at sporting goods, hobby, electronics and appliances stores, according to the federation.

The group predicts up to $721 billion in retail sales over this holiday season.

US retail stocks on track for biggest sell-off since 2008

Investors turn negative in spite of bullish Christmas sales forecasts

Shares in US retailers are on course for their biggest quarterly sell-off since the financial crisis, putting the sector at the sharp end of Wall Street’s mounting concerns about the global economy and President Donald Trump’s trade wars. In a sudden reversal of the cautious optimism that had crept in this year over the industry’s ability to cope with the ecommerce revolution, S&P’s index of 95 leading listed retailers has dropped 17 per cent so far this quarter.

The market downturn has gathered pace just as the festive shopping season gets into full swing, in spite of a series of upbeat predictions about Christmas sales. Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist at the National Retail Federation, has nudged his forecast for the holiday period higher after commerce department figures on Friday showed core retail sales surged in November by the most in a year. Investors said the sell-off, which puts the sector on track for the steepest quarterly decline since the final three months of 2008, reflected worries about gathering storm clouds for retailers next year. Luxury, middle market and budget retailers have all been hit hard. S&P 500-listed losers include upscale jeweller Tiffany, down 36 per cent for the quarter so far, and mass market chain Target, off 23 per cent. Concerns include retailers being forced to shed stock at hefty discounts, in part because they have accelerated shipments through ports to avoid being subjected to higher tariffs, which the Trump administration has since put on hold. Chad Kessler, global brand president at American Eagle Outfitters, said rivals were still being “pretty promotional” since the Black Friday sales. “It seems like a lot of retailers have kind of maintained their Thanksgiving week promotions through the month so far,” he said. Even companies thought to have successfully weathered the rise of Amazon have been caught up in the rout, including electronics retailer Best Buy, which is down 30 per cent. The sell-off has erased all gains from earlier this year, when investors drove a rally in retail stocks on signs that a strong US economy and tax cuts were helping bricks and mortar companies deal with the online threat. “People went from saying the mall is dead to the mall is back with a vengeance,” said Simeon Siegel, analyst at Instinet. “The reality is that it never died — but it was also never as healthy as people thought.” The US economy remains robust and Mr Kleinhenz now anticipates retail sales for the season to come in at the high end of the National Retail Federation’s previously issued forecast of a year-on-year rise of 4.3-4.8 per cent.

However, Michael Arone, chief investment strategist at State Street Global Advisors, said: “Investors are concerned more about the longer-term outlook for retail — and the broader structural trends, such as the shift online.” Weak economic data from Europe and Asia — figures on Friday showed retail sales in China grew at the slowest pace in 15 years in November — have meanwhile added to fears about a global downturn. Analysts also pointed to concerns that trade tensions would force US retailers to either risk volumes by raising consumer prices or absorb higher costs themselves, especially if higher tariffs were implemented next year. Executives have sought to reassure investors that they can minimise the impact on profits. Jack Calandra, chief financial officer of men’s clothing company Tailored Brands, said last week it was halving the proportion of products it sourced directly from China from 30 per cent to 15 per cent. Shares in Amazon have dropped 20 per cent for the quarter so far, paring its market capitalisation to $778bn. S&P’s Select Retail Index is equal-weighted, meaning the decline in Amazon’s stock has not had an outsized impact.

Alistair Gray

Financial Times

Retail Pundits Reveal Key Spending Themes This Holiday 2018 Shopping Season

FORBES

(Getty Images)

A lot of people will shop for the holidays! And they’ll buy online! And they will look at their phones a lot, too!

Duh.

It’s that time of year again, folks, when we retail reporter types can sometimes spew breathless pronouncements on the sometimes not-so-revelatory predictions pundits make on the make-or-break holiday selling season, when merchants generate a disproportionate chunk of their annual sales.

Here’s some predictions worth noting. Let the games begin.

Feeling Financially Flush, Consumers Will Spend More Than They Have In Five Years

The National Retail Federation expects holiday retail sales in November and December — excluding automobiles, gasoline and restaurants — to rise between 4.3% and 4.8% over 2017, for a total of  $720.89 billion. The forecast compares with an average annual increase of 3.9% over the past five years.

“The combination of increased job creation, improved wages, tamed inflation and an increase in [consumers’] net worth all provide the capacity and the confidence to spend,” the NRF’s chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said, in a statement.

Online retail will be the most popular shopping destination, with 60% of consumers planning e-commerce gifting this holiday season, according to a Deloitte survey.

An estimated 57% of holiday dollars will be spent online, eclipsing in-store purchasing, which is forecasted to account for 36% of consumer spending.

More than 70% of shoppers surveyed noted free shipping, while two-thirds cited time savings and home delivery, as the key reasons they’ll buy online this holiday, the survey found.

Of the nearly 50% of consumers who plan to use their smartphones to shop this holiday, 67% plan to use mobile to make a purchase, up from 57% last year.

Mass merchants are the second most popular venue for holiday shoppers (52%, up from 44% in 2017). Traditional department stores and off-price retailers round out the top-four shopping destinations.

Fewer Baubles And Blouses, More Brunches And Broadway Shows

Over the last five years, U.S. consumers have diverted more of their holiday budgets to experiences such as home entertaining and socializing away from home, which now represent 40%, or $611, of  survey respondents’ planned holiday budgets, the Deloitte study found.

While physical gift purchases, from clothes to household appliances, still dominate holiday purchases, they’re down trending. The number of shoppers who plan to buy a product has dropped 11% from 2017, according to Accenture. By contrast, shoppers planning to buy an experience or service-geared gift, from a meal out and a concert ticket to a cleaning service, rose 5%.

Millennials Will Be The Biggest Spenders, Practicing Conscious Consumption

An estimated 49% of younger Millennials plan to spend more this holiday than in 2017, while only 13% of their Baby Boomer counterparts expect to spend more than they did a year.

And Generation Y’s shopping venues will reflect their belief system. For example, 54% of younger Millennials said retailers have a duty to address broader social and political issues, such as diversity, be it gender, ethnic or disability inclusion, and they will reward merchants that do just that: 51% of younger Millennials surveyed are more likely to shop at a retailer that demonstrates awareness of these issues, the Accenture study found. “Our research suggests that younger Millennials are more likely to choose one brand over another if that brand demonstrates inclusion and diversity in terms of its promotions and offers, their in-store experience, their product range, and their environmental awareness,” said Jill Standish, senior managing director and head of Accenture’s retail practice, in a statement.

I’ve been a business journalist specializing in the retail industry for over a decade, covering consumer news, company profiles and industry analysis pieces, as well as the intersection of business news and shopping, fashion and social trends.

I was the retail and con…

FORBES

Retail

5 Things Retailers Need to Consider Heading Into the 2018 Holiday Shopping Season

Shutterstock photo

For most retailers, the 2018 holiday shopping season will present their biggest opportunity of the year to engage with customers. It will also represent the bulk of their annual sales.

As a result, this time of year is crucial for retailers to achieve success. With that in mind, current conditions make this holiday shopping season look positive for retailers.

1. Consumers Are Upbeat About Spending 

From what we’ve seen, customers are excited about shopping this year.

Brick-and-mortar sales will grow 1.4 percent and online growth is expected to reach 14 percent, according to Forrester Analytics: Online Holiday Retail Sales Forecast, 2018 (U.S.). Various studies also show that the average U.S. consumer will spend more during the upcoming holiday season, jumping from $1,226 per consumer to $1,536.

Deloitte’s annual holiday economic forecast looks great for retailers as well. Consumers seem confident about the economy, their household financial situations, and their spending plans for the upcoming holiday season.

Deloitte’s consumer survey shows online spending continues to grow and is expected to account for 57 percent of all purchases. Also, Deloitte’s research notes that shoppers are enthusiastic about the holiday season and remain price- and value-focused.

Based on the report, retailers are in a good spot to influence where consumers shop this year as many shoppers are entering the season undecided.

2. Thanksgiving is Coming Early

Consumers are doing their holiday shopping earlier based on a study by Bazaarvoice. An early Thanksgiving helps spread the holiday shopping theme to consumers.

Thanksgiving is as early as it can be this year (Nov. 22) which could prove helpful to retailers. Sixty percent of consumers say they begin their holiday shopping before Thanksgiving . This is particularly important this year because there will be 33 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Retailers have that much more time to fully engage consumers this holiday season. Although spending will increase this holiday season, retailers must be conscientious when it comes to identifying their best customers who are most likely to spend the most.

It appears that consumers look forward to spending early for their holiday shopping . This fact, combined with the Thanksgiving retail shopping period that includes Black Friday and Cyber Monday, means brands need to be prepared for this critical holiday shopping period around Thanksgiving.

3. The Strong Economy Will Help Retailers

Consumers are confident about the economy for several reasons. National Retail Federation President and CEO Matthew Shay cited some of these factors .

“Thanks to a healthy economy and strong consumer confidence, we believe that this holiday season will continue to reflect the growth we’ve seen over the past year,” Shay noted.

Holiday sales in 2017 totaled $687.87 billion, a 5.3 percent increase over 2016 and the largest increase since the 5.2 percent year-over-year gain seen in 2010 after the end of the Great Recession.

“Last year’s strong results were thanks to growing wages, stronger employment, and higher confidence, complemented by anticipation of tax cuts that led consumers to spend more than expected,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “With this year’s forecast, we continue to see strong momentum from consumers as they do the heavy lifting in supporting our economy. The combination of increased job creation, improved wages, tamed inflation and an increase in net worth all provide the capacity and the confidence to spend.”

All of these strong macroeconomic factors have contributed to one of the best consumer discretionary spending environments in years .

Consumer confidence in the economy is a powerful thing during the holiday season, which places retailers in an ideal situation to enhance engagement and retention levels.

4. Retailers Can Make the Holiday Season a Memorable One

Retailers can take advantage of the favorable economy and positive consumer sentiment through customer insights data during the holiday season.

Preparation for the holiday season is imperative for retailers. One under-the-radar element of holiday preparation for retailers should be website performance.

Whether it is a brick-and-mortar store or an ecommerce site, online presence marks the essence of every business strategy todayChecking website performance, load time, application performance testing, application load test, and much more are quickly becoming inevitable for commercial success.

All these factors play a vital role, especially during the high-pressure holiday season when every small or big portal is trying to grab maximum profits from the market.

During the holiday season retailers need to ensure that store associates are well versed and excited about the loyalty programs they will be promoting.

5. Customer Engagement Shouldn’t End with the 2018 Holiday Shopping Season

The holiday season is a great time to engage and create new customers, but what happens after that? One of the strategies a retailer can use to achieve this goal is a loyalty program.

There are thousands of loyalty programs out there, but consumers are drawn to ones that are simple and offer real value.

A new study shows  that 40 percent of customers who refrain from signing up for loyalty programs do so because the value of being a loyalty member is not worth the time, money, or effort of signing up. And for those who sign up, 76 percent do so to qualify for special promotions.

Retailers should take note of these statistics and evaluate special offers for loyalty members to ensure that their promotions are competitive and offer value.

Effectively leveraging a loyalty program during the holiday season can go a long way toward retaining customers in the long run. That customer engagement during the holiday season should continue in the New Year to bolster your consumer relationships.

Loyalty program signup is important throughout the year, but it takes on added importance and relevance during the holiday season.

Happy Holiday Shopping Season

If brands listen to their customers, identify their pain points, and meet their expectations, they can build solid two-way relationships that extend well beyond the holiday season.

Given the fact that consumers are upbeat about spending in a strong and vibrant economy, retailers can and should take advantage of the early Thanksgiving and make this holiday season a memorable one through increased customer engagement, more promotions around value-driven loyalty programs, and ensuring that store associates are proficient in your key brand messaging.

Creating memorable moments is a huge part of the holiday season.

Focus on your customers and enjoy a Happy Holiday Shopping Season!

11:06:55 AM EDT By 

U.S. retailer group sees 2018 holiday sales up more than 4 percent

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. holiday sales in 2018 will increase 4.3 percent to 4.8 percent boosted by a strong economy but will be slower than a year ago when consumer spending surged to a 12-year high, according to a forecast from a leading retail industry group.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) said holiday sales growth will be higher than an average increase of 3.9 percent over the past five years but slower than the 5.3 percent growth witnessed a year earlier when consumer spending grew the most since 2005 and was boosted by tax cuts.

“Last year’s strong results were thanks to growing wages, stronger employment and higher confidence, complemented by anticipation of tax cuts that led consumers to spend more than expected,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said.

“With this year’s forecast, we continue to see strong momentum from consumers as they do the heavy lifting in supporting our economy,” he said.

The combination of more jobs, improved wages, tamed inflation and an increase in net worth all provide the impetus to spend, he added.

The retail trade group said it expects sales for the last two months of the year between $717.45 billion and $720.89 billion, excluding autos, gasoline and dining out. Holiday sales in 2017 were $687.87 billion.

NRF’s forecast is one of the most closely watched benchmarks ahead of the holiday season, when retailers like Amazon.com Inc, Walmart Stores Inc and Target Corp generate an outsized portion of their profits and sales.

The last two months of the year can account for 20 percent to 40 percent of annual sales for many retailers.

The NRF forecast follows other estimates from companies like AlixPartners, which says sales will grow in between 3.1 percent and 4.1 percent as “2017 will be a tough year to follow.” Forecasts from companies like Deloitte and PwC expect holiday retail sales to grow around 5 percent.

NRF also said Wednesday that it expects seasonal employment by retailers to reach between 585,000 and 650,000 jobs, up from 582,500 in 2017.

Federal Reserve approves its third rate hike of the year

The move indicates that the nation’s central bank may soon be able to take a back seat for the first time since the 2008 financial crisis and allow the economy to steer itself.

Wednesday’s widely expected rate hike of one-quarter of a percentage point comes after the Federal Open Market Committee’s scheduled two-day policy meeting, and is a response to a robust economic landscape that includes low unemployment, an uptick in wage growth, and sweeping corporate tax reform.

“The near-term outlook appears to be steady as she goes,” said Jack Kleinhenz of the National Retail Federation. “Rarely are so many economic gauges of the U.S. economy so strong.”

The new rate also signals that the White House’s tit-for-tat global trade actions have so far had a muted impact on the nation’s nine-year economic growth streak.

The Fed kept rates artificially low for seven years after the Great Recession, zeroing out the rate in December 2008 and only raising it again in December 2015, under Janet Yellen’s chairmanship. Since then, Yellen raised the benchmark rate by one-quarter of a percentage point just four more times. After taking over from Yellen in February this year, Trump-appointed Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome “Jay” Powell has raised rates three consecutive times.

Chairman Powell has made note of the Fed’s precarious position as the economy heats up, saying last month that the Fed currently faces two main risks — either “moving too fast and needlessly shortening the expansion” or “moving too slowly and risking a destabilizing overheating.”

But Trump slammed Chairman Powell earlier this year, saying he was “not happy” about this year’s series of rate hikes.

“I don’t necessarily agree with it,” Trump told CNBC in July. “I’m not thrilled, because every time we go up, they want to raise rates again. But at the same time, I’m letting them do what they feel is best.”

Wednesday’s FOMC meeting was the first for economics professor Richard Clarida, who was confirmed earlier this month for a four-year term as Federal Reserve vice chairman. The board of governors has three remaining vacancies.

NBCNEWS

KTAL

The price of rising employment: Slow wage growth, trade risks

If wage growth doesn’t kick into high gear, increasing inflation could swallow even the minimal improvement in purchasing power workers have attained.

A slowing rate of job growth in July nonetheless managed to pull some workers off the sidelines, but wage growth mired at 2.7 percent began to elicit concerns that wages will fail to keep up with inflation as the economy picks up steam.

At 157,000, the number of jobs created last month fell short of expectations, but upward revisions of the previous two months and a broad base of new jobs across industries left economists relatively sanguine about the miss.

“I don’t think you want things to be ‘great’ because great means the Fed worries about inflation and the economy moving ahead too quickly,” said Scott Wren, senior global equity strategist at the Wells Fargo Investment Institute. “The expansion killer is the Fed making a mistake, moving too fast. We don’t want to see great right now. We just want to see good.”
Upward revisions to May and June added a combined total of 59,000 jobs added, bringing the monthly average to 224,000 over the past three months.  “In the past, summer months tend to show large employment fluctuations due to the timing of seasonal hiring,” National Retail Federation chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said in a statement. The retail sector eked out a small gain of 7,000 despite a loss of 32,000 jobs, largely due to the closure of the Toys R Us chain.

 

The labor market sectors with the most notable growth in July were professional and business services, which added 51,000 jobs; and manufacturing and healthcare/social assistance, which added 37,000 and 34,000 jobs, respectively.

“U.S. manufacturing is flexing some muscle right now,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate.com, but noted these and other labor market gains could be threatened by President Donald Trump’s protectionist sentiments. “Obviously, there are huge risks associated with the trade dispute,” he said.

If wage growth doesn’t kick into high gear, increasing inflation could swallow even the minimal improvement in purchasing power workers have attained in the recovery so far.

“I don’t think we’ve seen the brunt of the tariffs yet,” said Arne Kalleberg, professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Manufacturing and agriculture-related jobs would be especially at risk if China or the European Union enact retaliatory sanctions, he said.

Derailing the current labor market expansion could hurt the most at-risk members of the workforce the most and slow mediocre wage growth even further, even as rising inflation erodes the value of Americans’ pay.

“We have to think about the fact that inflation’s running at a 2 percent rate,” Hamrick said. “We’re on this rising interest rate trajectory.” If wage growth doesn’t kick into high gear, increasing inflation could swallow even the minimal improvement in purchasing power workers have attained in the recovery so far.

Economists say demographics are one factor behind wage growth that trails what most experts consider the low end of healthy wage growth by nearly a full percentage point. As baby boomers leave the workforce, the younger and generally less-experienced workers taking their place don’t earn as much.

A yawning skills gap is another. Economists say a robust economy is drawing people back into the workforce, but this could be one of the factors holding down wage growth. “What businesses are having to do is they can’t find people with skills, so they have to hire them at unskilled wages and then train them,” said Dan North, chief economist at Euler Hermes North America.

The data bears this out: Compared to the topline unemployment rate of 3.9 percent, the broader U-6 measure of unemployment fell three-tenths of a percentage point to 7.5 percent in July, a percentage point lower than it was a year ago.

“Of course, the people hired without skills have lower productivity,” North added. The upshot is that unskilled workers aren’t being paid as much, which economists theorize could be holding down wage gains.

With fewer skills and lower productivity, these would be the workers most likely to lose out if companies have to start cutting jobs in response to a trade war-initiated slowdown. “I always worry about the quality of these jobs,” Kalleberg said. “There’s very little bargaining power on the part of workers.“

by Martha C. White / 

NBC News

Retail sales gain is a sign tax reform may be working

Retail winners and losers in 2018

Consumers are increasing their spending, which may be a plus for the stock market during a period of volatility. U.S. retail sales rose in March more than forecast after three straight monthly declines, with consumers buying more big-ticket items. This evidence of healthy sentiment could drive markets higher in the second quarter.

Retail sales increased 0.6% in March after a 0.1% drop in February, the Commerce Department reported on Monday. The January retail data was revised down to show that sales declined by 0.2%, steeper than the previously reported 0.1% dip.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast that retail sales would rise by 0.4% in March. Year-over-year, retail sales increased 4.5%.

There have been hopes that with many Americans seeing their paychecks increase because of tax cut savings, consumer spending would climb. Such an increase, in turn, would be good for the economy overall, with more than two-thirds of U.S. economic growth attributed to consumer spending.

“These are strong numbers, no doubt surging from the shot in the arm tax reform provided,” said Mike Loewengart, vice president of investment strategy at E*Trade. “Consumers are seeing more in their paycheck, and it appears they’ve gone shopping—certainly good news for investors.”

Stock markets have gone through a volatile period and are seeking direction.

“With most earnings reports arriving in the next few weeks, this is a pivotal time for a market that is in search of something positive to latch on to,” Loewengart added. “It appears, at least at the moment, strong economic fundamentals just simply aren’t enough to fire the bull rally back up.”

National Retail Federaton Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz called the retail sales report a “healthy spending report” despite market volatility, unseasonable weather and uncertain economic policies. “Consumers continue to show resiliency in spending, and these numbers reflect how the economy is performing with a strong job market, gains in wages, improvements in confidence, rising home value and judicious use of credit,” he said.

By RetailFOXBusiness