There are times when excessive attention to monthly data reporting what’s up, what’s down, can be allowed to obscure underlying structural changes in an economy.
With the game of what-will-Yellen-do-next in full flow, this is one of those times.
No, the proverbial tectonic plates are not shifting, whatever that phrase might mean when applied to an economy other than one in the throes of an irreversible Margaret Thatcher-style revolution.
But there are significant trends underway, trends that are unlikely to be reversed and which, as they play out, will result in an American economy considerably different from the one we have today.
Perhaps the most notable is the change in how Americans choose to live.
We seem to be in what might be called “the full-closet era.” No more stuff. More “experiences.”
Consumers are spending more but department stores, from Macy’s, a dominant player in that sector (sales at stores open at least a year down 2.1 percent), to Kohl’s (sales flat, profits down), are watching those dollars pass them by as consumers use their money for gym memberships, to dine out, travel, buy apps, and find more and more unfree uses for their cell phones.
Perhaps the only sector in which stuff trumps experience is the booming auto sector, but even there much of the increased revenue and profit is coming from the experiences consumers want their cars to deliver in addition to getting them from here to there: videos in the back seats to reduce the incidence of the famous question, “Are we there yet, mommy?”; Apple CarPlay in the front to provide the driver access to unlimited musical entertainment; heated and air-cooled steering wheels.