business news in context, analysis with attitude

We did a story yesterday that prompted an interesting reaction.

The piece reported that the Conference Board’s measurement of consumer confidence fell to 80.3 in December from 84.9 in November. In addition, we reported, ABC News/Money Magazine reported that its weekly Consumer Confidence index dipped to -21 in the week ended Dec. 29 from -19 in the prior week.

The most interesting email we got in response to this came from MNB user Bill Blakely:

“Why don’t you stick to supermarket stuff? We have enough news media out there reporting only the negative data. If you and others would consider all the economic indicators, including personal income, you would be reporting a growth economy and perhaps customer confidence would be going up rather than down.”

Along the same lines, we got an email from MNB user Mark Heckman:

“Clearly, over the last year, the consumer has managed to keep a soft economy from becoming even softer, but I think the media hype as a reaction to these "negative" numbers and some of the other so-called economic indicators can create a self-fulfilled prophecy, if not viewed in context with some of the positive results and news that gets buried against the more "dramatic" negative news.

“A good example of this continues to be the headlines associated with layoffs, but yet those companies and industries that continue to grow and hire get no play. Housing starts continue to set records, which fuels a number of economic sectors, but you have to go to "page three" to find these positive stories.

“I think it critical over the next few months for media sources to be a concerted effort to look objectively at economic news and work to balance the story. If not, it will undoubtedly lead to a further decline in consumer confidence.”

Of course, not everyone agreed. One member of the MNB community wrote:

“To our President we must say - It's still the economy stupid.”

We have several reactions to all this:

  • We think reporting economic trends is “supermarket stuff,” since how much money people have and how much confidence they have in the economy will influence what they spend and where.

  • True, negative economic indicators do tend to get more publicity than the positive ones. Sort of like how these days the US military gets a lot more publicity than the Peace Corps. However, we think we’ve been assiduous about stressing the fact that consumers have been a bright light in a darkening economic picture…though we’ll try to be better about posting good news as well as bad.

  • We do think that blaming the media for lessening consumer confidence is a bit disingenuous. Sure, the media writes about it. But lessening confidence may have a lot more to do with people getting laid off, businesses closing, and entire sectors being ravaged by tough economic times. (Anybody spoken to an advertising executive lately?)

For the record, we have two economic stories above. One is about the US Bureau of Labor Statistics not wanting to file regular layoff reports anymore. But the other is about how consumers spent more on Christmas presents than they planned.

We think that’s called balance.

We also think it is a useful discussion, because it keeps all of thinking and asking questions and reconsidering preconceptions.

Onto other subjects…

On the matter of companies cutting back on personnel to save money, lessening their ability to provide sufficient customer service, MNB user Lois Bredow wrote:

“I believe that this kind of thing will continue to happen because the bottom line is always the first consideration in business. Executives decide that paying personnel is an area for cost-cutting. Either by paying current personnel at a low level, cutting the number of employees or not hiring new people as needed to service customers.

“I had an experience on vacation with such a thing. I purchased a piece of plywood and had the store cut it into the necessary sizes for my project. I detected an attitude from the young man because I am a woman. (The reason I say this is that I observed him dealing with a male customer who did not get any of the attitude I got). He was to make on 27" cut all the way across the panel and then cut that piece into 21" pieces. When I got home and began building the drawers, two of the four pieces were 20". I was able to continue and use the pieces as they were, but it was not as I wanted it. I did not want to go through the hassle of returning to the lumber yard and get two new pieces, so the store never found out how I felt about it. I will certainly be checking any measurements personnel make there in the future. Anyone can make mistakes, but I do think that seasoned employees and people who are there to provide a service rather than just to collect a pay check do provide better service. Better service is also provided when there is enough staff to meet people's needs. (There is not enough help in the lumber yard I was at. Looking to find someone is always a problem there.)”

In response to yesterday’s note about Phil Lempert’s “Today” show appearance explaining to consumers how to get their kitchens in shape, MNB user Norma Gilliam wrote:

“This certainly is timely. Just earlier in your column, you mentioned that consumer confidence is down and that many people feel worse off than last year. More people will be eating meals at home than ever before, so it is a good idea to get their kitchens in order and get ideas on cooking meals. Who knows, maybe this will even lead to eating more healthy meals! This past year has already shown families spending more time together and eating the evening meal at home. Just this pas New Years Eve, many people did not go out, but rather spent time at home. Supermarkets should continue to offer meal selections and ideas in order to capture these dollars.”

We agree.

That’s it for this week…have a great weekend, and we’ll see you Monday morning.

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