This blog post originally appeared on RealMoney Silver on Nov. 30 at 7:45 a.m. EST.
On Friday Jim Cramer waxed enthusiastically about retail stocks.
The outcome of the holiday retail season is more or less baked in, with expectations for a modest improvement in sales that will be highly discounted. Not surprisingly, Internet shopping should continue to expand and gain market share from brick-and-mortar stores.
Given the proximity of
weekend's sales results to consensus forecasts, I am not certain how meaningful near-term sales trends will be on the performance of the retail group over the short term nor do I feel that the reported sales results are either an encouraging or discouraging indicator for next year. To me, early sales reports neither support a self-sustaining consumer nor do they totally dismiss the prospects for a double-dip.
The riddle to investing in the retail sector remains in the exercise of determining the rate of change of retail spending in 2010 relative to consensus expectations. To be sure, jobs creation should hold one of the important keys.
On the positive side for the stocks is that next year's consensus is for a shallow recovery in personal consumption expenditures. On the negative side of the ledger, consumer and small business confidence remains exceedingly low, and with the additional headwinds below retail, stocks could be vulnerable, especially within the context of their sharp rise over the past eight months.
When I distill the positives and negatives together, I remain of the view that the consumer remains the Achilles' heel of our economy.
It is said that spending is quick but earning is slow -- the aspirational consumer and the long tail of the consumption binge that followed is basically over for a while to come. Over the next few years, it is reasonable to expect the consumer to retreat toward lower expectations and even toward being satisfied with maintaining the status quo.
The consumer's headwinds are numerous. Here are a few:
- elevated and structural rise in unemployment;
- reduced credit availability (and the continued need to repair consumer balance sheets);
- the potential for pockets of rising costs (energy, health care, etc.), which will hurt already pressured incomes;
- much higher marginal tax rates (sales, local, state and federal); and
- continued dependency (and vulnerability) to a possible dip in stock prices and a hesitant recovery in housing (and home prices).
In summary, all of above factors could serve to weigh on the consumer, on retail sales and on retail stocks. With the equal-weighted
SPDR S&P Retail
ETF having risen by almost 100%, from $18 in March 2009 to $35 now, the group seems to be discounting a stronger consumer recovery than seems reasonable.
Frankly, the retail group scares the hell out of me.
Doug Kass writes daily for
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At the time of publication, Kass and/or his funds had no positions in the stocks mentioned, although holdings can change at any time.
Doug Kass is the general partner Seabreeze Partners Long/Short LP and Seabreeze Partners Long/Short Offshore LP. Under no circumstances does this information represent a recommendation to buy, sell or hold any security.