As March gets underway, nervous investors are behaving like lambs about to get slaughtered, whereas the American consumer is starting to roar. Recent alarms from the usual "Chicken Little" analysts about a looming market crash or recession are spooking investors but not shoppers, who seem determined to loosen their purse strings and spend.
The S&P 500 is down 4.31% year to date and global financial markets continue to subject investors to extreme turbulence, but consumers are shrugging it off. The stage is set for certain growth stocks to rise above the worries that bedevil other equities.
The U.S. Commerce Department reported on Friday that U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) grew at a 1.0% annual rate in the fourth quarter, not exactly gangbusters, but stronger than expected and another indication that the recovery remains on track despite dire warnings from pessimists that a recession lies ahead.
During the past seven decades, any investor who bet against the desire of Americans to go shopping during a recovery ultimately lost the wager. Hence the time-proven adage among traders: don't bet against the consumer. And remember, consumer expenditures account for nearly three-fourths of U.S. GDP.
Also on Friday, the Commerce Department reported that consumer spending in January grew 0.5%, the biggest gain since March, as households hiked purchases of a wide variety of consumer goods and seasonal winter temperatures buoyed demand for heating. This upbeat report came on the heels of a 0.1% rise in consumer spending in December.
In a separate report, the University of Michigan revealed that its consumer sentiment index increased to 91.7 in February after dipping to a reading of 90.7 early in the month. Although slightly down from January's reading of 92, the latest number indicates positive momentum in consumer confidence that should accelerate in spring. At the same time, wages and salaries jumped 0.6%, as minimum wage increases took effect in several states.
A confluence of other positive factors, notably higher savings, declining personal debt and rising house prices, should continue to lessen the blow from recent stock market sell-offs and propel consumer spending in early 2016. That's good news for companies that make products people need, regardless of financial woes overseas or plunging energy prices.
Several major retail and other consumer-oriented companies are scheduled to release earnings this week. Monday: Crocs (CROX) - Get Report . Wednesday: Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF) - Get Report and Brown-Forman (BF.B) . Thursday: Burlington Stores (BURL) - Get Report , Kroger (KR) - Get Report , and Stage Stores (SSI) - Get Report . Friday: Big Lots (BIG) - Get Report and Staples (SPLS) .
The economic calendar this week also is chock full of data related to consumer behavior. In particular, the latest motor vehicle sales numbers are expected to be exceptionally strong, with analysts calling for a 9% year-over-year jump in February. Whenever Americans rekindle their passion for cars and trucks, it's not just original equipment vehicle manufacturers such as General Motors (GM) - Get Report and Ford Motor (F) - Get Report that benefit. A host of ancillary industries come along for the ride, lifting the entire economy.
Notable on the economic calendar this week:
Monday: Pending Home Sales. Tuesday: Motor Vehicle Sales, PMI Manufacturing Index, Construction Spending. Wednesday: MBA Mortgage Applications, ADP Employment Report, Gallup U.S. Job Creation Index. Thursday: Chain Store Sales, Challenger Job-Cut Report, Jobless Claims, Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index, PMI Services Index. Friday: Employment Situation.
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John Persinos is editorial manager and investment analyst at Investing Daily. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.