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Why we aren’t buying stuff

May 14, 2015

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The retail sales report is often seen as one of the indicators of the health of the economy. And if April is any indication, consumers are tepid about spending money on stuff.

April retail sales were flat with year ago levels, according to Reuters. Economists had expected sales to rise by 0.2 percent.

The forecasters are having trouble figuring out what’s going on. Normally, lower gasoline prices would fuel spending. But it seems that consumers are simply pocketing the money that they’ve saving at the pump.

That’s clear from the first quarter sales report by Macy’s, which has department stores in every corner of the country.

It reported a 13.8 percent drop in first-quarter net income, which it said was caused by bad weather, disruptions at ports, and the strong dollar relative to global currencies.

The company said spending by tourists at Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s department stores was down sharply. It now expects second-quarter earnings to fall below the same period a year ago.

Spring is always a time when people think about spending on home repairs, summer clothes and get ready to take vacations.

For story ideas, visit with shoppers at your local stores, or talk to the owners of small businesses. You might discover a sector of your economy that’s doing better. You also might find some indicators of how things are in your region.


  • Micheline Maynard

    Micheline is a contributing columnist at the Washington Post concentrating on business and culture. She has written about flooding in Detroit, tainted water in Benton Harbor, nationwide shortages of restaurant staff, and vaccine hesitancy.

    View all posts

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