Most businesses have suffered over the past year or so. Profits and sales have fallen, as the UK (and global) economy suffered from a recession that’s seen UK interest rates at 0.5%, unemployment rising and public debt at unprecedented levels. Christmas trading always sees a boost in sales and that’s just what’s happened for many businesses. Shoppers have responded to the doom and gloom of the past year by spending and making up for a hard year. Phrases such as “I decided to treat myself” became common on the news as reporters travelled to shopping centres across the UK. However, shops such as M&S and Next have warned that attempts by the government to reduce the public deficit could derail the consumer recovery.
These positive stories, whilst true, are a useful tool to help boost consumer confidence and keep expectations positive for the coming months. However, there are warnings that these figures shouldn’t be taken out of context. The economy is still in trouble and public debt has reached almost 60% of GDP. With cuts in government spending and rises in taxation expected, how much confidence should be taken from these positive signs in the retail sector? Only time will tell.
Online powers Shop Direct sales Financial Times, Esther Bintliff (6/1/10)
Poundland, House of Fraser and Co-op see sales rise BBC News (11/1/10)
Links of London see buoyant festive sales Telegraph, James Hall (5/1/10)
John Lewis reports bumper Christmas trading Retail Week, Jennifer Creevy (5/1/10)
New Look expects to build on strong Christmas London Evening Standard (7/1/10)
Christmas trade booming in City Star News Group, Alex de Vos (7/1/10)
Record trading for Cash Generator Manchester Evening News (7/1/10)
Sainsbury’s hails ‘strong’ Christmas trading BBC News (7/1/10)
Cautious M&S reports strong Christmas trade Times Online, Marcus Leroux and Robert Lindsay (6/1/10)
Asda reports ‘solid’ Christmas trading Guardian (6/1/10)
- Why are expectations important for the future of the British economy? Are the expectations rational or adaptive or a combination of the two?
- Are high Christmas sales really a sign that the economy is recovering? Discuss both sides of the argument. Will high sales now have an adverse effect on future trade in the UK?
- How will expected cuts in government spending affect sales in the retail sector?
- Tax rises are a possibility. How will this affect consumers and sales in the coming year? Think about the circular flow of income.
- If interest rates are increased in the coming months, trace through the likely effects in the goods market.
A key determinant of the length of any phase of the business cycle is consumer confidence. If people have gloomy expectations and confidence of a recovery is low, then a recession that should have lasted 6 months ends up lasting for years. Companies don’t see an end to the recession and keep holding off on investment plans and the public don’t want to go out and start spending, because there’s no guarantee that the economy is on its way back up. The more you worry about your finances, the less likely you are to go out and start spending, even though that could be the stimulus that a shrinking economy needs.
According to the British Retail Consortium, consumer confidence in the UK is on its way back up and currently stands at an 18-month high – which doesn’t actually say much given the past 18-months!! Despite this, job worries still remain and this has been highlighted significantly in the past week, when Britain’s youngest person ever was made redundant: a 13-year old paper boy. Whilst consumer confidence is argued to be returning to the UK, consumer confidence has been going in the opposite direction in the USA, with further fears of job losses. US confidence had been improving but unexpectedly fell in October. Is that what the UK has to look forward to?
So, why is consumer confidence so important? How does it affect the length of recovery and what is expected to happen over the next few months? Read the articles below to find out more.
US consumer confidence takes hit BBC News (27/10/09)
Consumer confidence hits 18-month high The Independent, David Prosser (1/11/09)
Consumer confidence on the rise BBC News (2/11/09)
Confidence boost hints that worst of recession now over The Scotsman, Peter Ranscombe (2/11/09)
US Michigan Sentiment fell to 70.6 this month Bloomberg, Courtney Schlisserman (30/10/09)
Euro-zone Consumer confidence improves The Wall Street Journal, Ilona Billington and Roman Kessler (30/10/09)
Retailers set for a merry Christmas DIYWeek (2/11/09)
Job fears still remain despite biggest increase in consumer confidence in 18 months, says British Retail Consortium Liverpool Echo, Neil Hodgson (2/11/09)
Business and consumer surveys in each of the EU countries and in the EU as a whole can be found at:
Business and Consumer Surveys European Commission
- In what ways does consumer confidence affect economic growth?
- Are there likely to be any adverse consequences of consumer confidence returning to the market?
- What are some of the reasons for the unexpected fall in consumer confidence in the USA? Do you think a similar thing is likely to happen in the UK?
- Expectations are crucial in economics. What is the difference between adaptive and rational expectations? How do they affect adjustment to the short- and long-run equilibrium?
- Can anything be done to improve confidence or is it simply a case of leaving things as they are … and waiting?