January 14, 2014

Christmas Shopping Season Pulls Off a Last-Minute Recovery – Perhaps at the Expense of 1Q14

Filed under: Business Moves,Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 8:37 pm

This would be good news for those who thought that what little economic momentum there is would sustain itself through the holidays, but I think it’s also an example of “Be careful what you wish for.”

According to the Associated Press:

Holiday shoppers were more than willing to spend during the holiday season, if they saw big discounts or were shopping online.

Sales rose 3.8 percent from last year for November and December combined, according to the National Retail Federation’s analysis of federal figures. That was a healthy gain in a season that kept merchants worried right up until Christmas as people held off on spending.

That caution and increased online shopping made the holiday less festive at the mall. Shoppers stayed away from many traditional destinations like department stores and electronics stores.

The sales increase came in just shy of the trade group’s forecast of a 3.9 percent gain. It was better than the 3.5 percent increase in 2012 and the 3.3 percent average for the past 10 years.

This probably means that fourth quarter GDP will, contrary to what I feared, come in half-decent at 3 percent or so.

But the AP writeup notes the clouds on the horizon, and they are significant. First, the sales increase wasn’t particularly profitable, and second, the first quarter has gotten out of the gate pretty slowly:

… For retailers, those discounts came straight out of their profits. Many have cut their forecasts for the fourth quarter, and profits are expected to be the weakest since second quarter of 2009, when the economy was coming out of the Great Recession.

(President of Retail Metrics LLC Ken) Perkins estimates that fourth-quarter profits will fall 0.7 percent from last year, the first decline since a 6.7 percent drop seen during the second quarter of 2009, according to his tally of 120 retailers.

January is already off to a slow start. Some stores like Express Inc. and Lululemon Athleta have said weak January sales are compounding their holiday-season woes. Express said it plans to continue heavy sales promotions, which it expects to last through the month.

Finally, for those who think 2013 was some kind of turnaround year — Nope:

For all of 2013, total retail sales rose 4.2 percent, the weakest gain in four years.

AP’s coverage of retail sales failed to note that October and November were both revised downward. The figures for the final three months are 0.5%, 0.4%, and 0.2%, respectively.

Then of course there’s the great unknown, which the administration managed to push mostly into 2014: Obamacare. How much damage will the additional costs and rampant confusion inflict? I would say, “A lot more than zero.”

UPDATE: Zero Hedge notes that “the data involving Electronics and Appliance Stores … posted the biggest 2 month drop in 2 years!”

USAT’s Wolken Impugns Integrity of Football Head Injury Researcher

We’ve seen it play out in several areas, one of which is climate science. Any researcher who questions the supposedly “settled science” of global warming is a hack who will produce whatever industry wants if they have ever accepted a dime from an energy company, while those who depend on government grants to sustain their livelihood — grants which heavily depend on toeing the politically correct line that human-caused warming is one of the greatest evils of our time — are as pure as the driven snow.

In an item about head injuries and football, USA Today’s Dan Wolken went to the same, uh, playbook with neuroscientist Sandra Chapman, who contends that “concussions don’t pose a significant long-term health risk.” It almost seemed as if Wolken believes that those who have sued the NFL and obtained a tentative $675 million settlement — an amount which a judge believes is likely inadequate — have “settled science” on their side (HT Rush Limbaugh; bolds and numbered tags are mine):

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US News Defends Running Virulently Anti-Catholic Op-ed Alleging ‘Catholic Supreme Court’s War on Women’

U.S. News, once a reasonably respectable weekly newsmagazine, recently published an op-ed by Jamie Stiehm (“The Catholic Supreme Court’s War on Women”) which generated so much furor that the now online-only publication’s editor felt compelled to issue an “official statement on the controversy.” Brian Kelly’s miserable defense only succeeded in making an already cavernous hole deeper.

When there is doubt about the bigotry inherent in a writer’s words, substituting a politically correct person or group’s name and imagining what would happen if the item were published as revised usually removes it. Readers who substitute “Muslim” or “black” in opportune places in the following excerpt from Stiehm’s original column won’t have any doubt about her stated bigotry once they do (bolds are mine throughout this post):
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LAT’s Terhune Claims Obamacare’s Insurers, Not Govt. and Exchanges, Are ‘Under Fire’ For ‘Frustration and Fury’

Let’s see. We know, to name just a few of many impositions, that much of the enrollee information that HealthCare.gov and other exchanges have communicated to insurers has been erroneous, that insurers have had to deal with signing up hundreds of thousands of policyholders they originally cancelled, that deadlines for premium payments have been serially revised, and that there is no computerized subsidy payment system in place.

Yet Chad Terhune at the Los Angeles Times is irresponsibly steering gullible readers into believing that insurers are responsible for the Obamacare-related chaos and poor customer service, when it’s a virtual miracle that anyone is being served at all (HT Patterico; bolds and numbered tags are mine):

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Jay Leno, on Obama’s ‘Promise Zones’

Filed under: Economy,Health Care,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 9:37 am

Watch (via MRC-TV):

Quote:

And yesterday, President Obama laid out plans for creating what he called “Promise Zones” all across the country – spots that would receive extra financial and economic attention from the government.

Don’t confuse those areas with the rest of the country. Those are “Broken Promise” zones. … That’s where everybody else lives.

Latest PJ Media Column (‘Phony Change.org Petition Protests Cuts to Part-Timers’ Hours at Staples’) Is Up

Filed under: Economy,Health Care,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 7:10 am

It’s here.

It will go up here at BizzyBlog on Thursday morning (link won’t work until then) after the blackout expires.

Tuesday Off-Topic (Moderated) Open Thread (011414)

Filed under: Lucid Links — Tom @ 6:05 am

This open thread will stay at or near the top today. Rules are here. Possible comment fodder may follow. Other topics are also fair game.

Positivity: RIP, Sam Berns

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:00 am

From Rick Reilly’s January 11 column:

Note: Sam Berns, a fan of the New England Patriots and a friend of owner Robert Kraft, has died at the age of 17. He battled the disease progeria. Go here for the statement by Patriots owner Robert Kraft.

The biggest Patriots fan

His birth certificate says 16. His face says 80. His body size says 6. His mind says 35. His medical diagnosis says, “Failure to thrive,” but that’s a lie. Few people you’ll ever meet thrive like Sam Berns.

Ask Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots.

“I get to meet a lot of people in my life,” Kraft says. “But I’ve never met anyone quite like Sam. I love the kid.”

Sam has progeria, which ages him at eight times the normal rate. Even though he’s a junior at Foxborough (Mass.) High School, he looks like a tiny old man. And yet he plays drums in the marching band, umps baseball games, wears his Eagle Scout badge, invents things, makes straight A’s, talks like an after-dinner speaker, and is trying to decide whether to go to MIT or Harvard in two years.

Pray he lives that long.

When Sam was 2, his parents were told that he probably wouldn’t make it past 13, the usual life expectancy for the one in 4 million kids born with progeria. They were told that he would be a living time lapse. His skin would wrinkle, his eyesight would fade, his hair would go, his nose would beak, his head would swell, his face would shrink and there would be nothing they could do about it. There’s no cure.

But Sam’s parents — Dr. Scott Berns and Dr. Leslie Gordon — didn’t listen. If nobody was coming to the rescue, why couldn’t they?

They started a foundation and after years of work, helped identify the gene mutation that causes the disease and the first experimental treatment for it, lonafarnib. But with Sam’s time running out, they need money — $4 million — to figure out through clinical trial if it’s a cure. That’s where Kraft enters.

Kraft read about Sam in the Foxboro Reporter. This is a man who watches young men perform astonishing athletic feats with their bodies. This is a man who still grieves his wife, Myra, who died two years ago at 68. In Sam, he must’ve seen a tragic meld — a young man dying of old age.

He invited him to a Saturday practice, just before the Patriots’ September 29 game in Atlanta, and liked him so much he decided to donate $1,000 for every year Sam had been alive.

But then Sam mentioned his birthday was October 23. Now the donation had to be $17,000. “Smart businessman,” Kraft grinned.

And that was just the start of Kraft falling in love with a young man trapped in a senior citizen’s body.

Kraft: “Who’s your favorite player? I’ll introduce you.”

Sam: “Oh, I could never pick just one player. Football is a team sport.”

So Kraft introduced him to the entire team. He met Tom Brady. Bill Belichick. Everybody. They gathered around and made Sam look even tinier. Then Sam gave the whole team a speech, telling them how they could strategically beat Atlanta and quarterback Matt Ryan. “Make Matty Ryan feel uncomfortable … so he throws an interception and we get the ball back. And drive it in.”

The players and coaches stood there scratching their heads at this little old boy who sounded suddenly like Vince Lombardi. …

Go here for the rest of the story.