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So here I am watching the Michigan-Ohio State football game, not really planning to post anything today, but surfing around on the web anyway, and what do I come across? A Yahoo Finance report from yesterday presenting a decidedy upbeat picture of the new holiday shopping season – whose ultimate results will go pretty far toward influencing the final state of the U.S. economy during these inflationary times, and especially of lower-income consumers, who tend to get hit hardest by high inflation. (See, e.g., here.)

This post was noteworthy because it bucked that last piece of conventional wisdom. Indeed, veteran personal finance journalist Vera Gibbons emphasized the finding from one major consultancy that We’re seeing greater participation among lower-income households (those who earn less than $50,000 per year).

They’ve “settled into the ‘new normal,’” this analyst from Deloitte Insights told her “and are feeling more stable — and hopeful — given wage growth.” “They’re going to jump in and spend,” he declared.

And he had some numbers to back up his prediction, saying that (in Gibbons words) “this group of shoppers plan to spend an average of $671 this holiday season. That’s 25% more than last year. On the flip side, high-income earners (those who make more than $100,000 per year) plan to cut back by 7%, bringing their spending down to an average of $2,438.”

But this assessment left my head spinning not just because of its clash with the conventional wisdom. It also drew exactly the opposite picture that appeared in a New York Times article from the very same day. The header should explain why: “This Holiday Season, the Poor Buckle Under Inflation as the Rich Spend.”

Specifically, correspondent Jeanna Smialek spotlighted Federal Reserve data (which I described more generally here) showing that

after 18 months of rapid price inflation — some of which was driven by stimulus-fueled demand — the poor are depleting those cushions. American families were still sitting on about $1.7 trillion in excess savings — extra savings accumulated during the pandemic — by the middle of this year, based on Fed estimates, but about $1.35 trillion of it was held by the top half of earners and just $350 billion in the bottom half.”

Also showing that poorer Americans are feeling an especially tight inflationary squeeze:

Credit card data from Bank of America suggest that high- and middle-income households have replaced lower-income households in driving consumption growth in recent months. Poorer shoppers contributed one-fifth of the growth in discretionary spending in October, compared with around two-fifths a year earlier.”

And don’t expect the confusing reports on holiday shopping or the low-income consumer to stop any time soon. As noted in this post, “preliminary Black Friday reports contain almost no useful information about the state of the economy” and “early Black Friday sales figures are at best unreliable and at worst completely useless [even] for predicting overall holiday sales.”

Keep in mind, moreover: That last post was written in 2015 – well before the CCP Virus pandemic, the sharp economic downturn and blazing recovery that followed, and gargantuan stimulus programs began turning the U.S. economy into a $20-some-odd trillion mass of conflicting signals and developments.  As a result, all that seems certain going forward about the economy is that along with peak inflation uncertainty and recession uncertainty, for the time being we’ll have to deal with holiday shopping season uncertainty as well.