January 17, 2020

Retail sales for 2019 were up 3.6 percent from 2018. With inflation running around 2 percent, that means a real increase of 1.6 percent or so. Car sales were good and on-line sales were terrific (up 13 percent) but when you subtract out inflation, every other sector did poorly – furniture stores, food stores, hardware and lumber stores, drug stores, electronics, sporting goods.

It’s difficult to see this scenario changing in 2020, not just because of Amazon but because consumers are already up to their ears in debt – where will they get the money?

Total jobs in December were up 1.4 percent from the previous year, pretty much in line with the performance of recent months. I don’t see a better picture in 2020, it’s much easier to see slower growth. While a recession in 2020 is unlikely, the low growth of the economy means it can quickly slide if shocks of one kind or another (trade wars, real wars, political wars) make consumers cautious.

Jobs were up 2.5 percent in healthcare, 2.3 percent at restaurants, 1.9 percent in business services, 1.4 percent in finance, 0.7 percent in government, and virtually flat in retail and manufacturing.

Temporary jobs, a category that can include secretaries and clerks as well as doctors and engineers, and that served as a leading indicator before the 2008 recession (but also fell in 2016) is now in negative territory.