New York (TheStreet) -- Throughout much of this economic debacle, luxury retailers have been a source of strength, a somewhat unexpected driver of the consumer economy. They were in large part saviors of the economy, which is to say: without luxury retailers, conditions would have been much worse.
The flashy retailer of shiny goods suffered a grim Christmas. After surpassing Wall Street expectations for five straight quarters, the company cut full-year numbers. The stock tanked.
If the strength of the likes of Tiffany's served to prop up the economy, what does its weakness mean? Is Tiffany a canary in the coal mine, presaging a negative turn? These are essential questions, but much of the business media failed to ask, let alone answer, them.The Financial Times, for example, touched upon the possible weakness of the emerging middle class overseas, but neglected to mention Tiffany's role in recent economic strength in America and, by extension, the possible implication of its weakness. Barron's, too, skipped right by it. Luckily for all in favor of making appropriate connections between events in our interconnected world, The Wall Street Journal and Associated Press considered whether as Tiffany goes, so goes America. The issue is not clear-cut. European weakness contributed mightily to Tiffany's lean Christmas, but so did the tapped out American consumer. Need I remind you of the astronomical growth in November credit card debt? That does not imply a consumer with legs. So is the canary dead? Probably not. But he's clearly gasping for air.