Holiday sales of electronics and toys plunged this past Christmas season. Also of note, JPMorgan lowered its annualized 4th quarter GDP estimates down to .8% from 1.5%. Nonetheless, analysts see a silver lining to the data. They always do.
Toys R Us reported a key sales figure declined in November and December, hurt by weak demand for videogames, electronics and toys and shoppers who pulled back because of Superstorm Sandy.
"We believe our December sales were impacted by softness in the overall markets for videogames, electronics and toys, and by the uncertain economic environment in the U.S. and abroad," said CEO Jerry Storch.
The privately held toy store owner said revenue from domestic stores open at least one year fell 4.5 percent in the U.S. in November and December combined. In December alone, that figure fell 1.8 percent. The company operates more than 800 namesake and Babies R Us stores in the U.S. and another 600-plus stores overseas.
Struggling consumer electronics chain Best Buy said Friday that a key revenue metric declined during the critical holiday season.
But its flat performance in the U.S. was better than the past several quarters, and online revenue showed strong growth.
The chain said revenue at stores open at least a year fell 1.4% for the nine weeks ended Jan. 5. This figure is a key gauge of a retailer's health because it excludes results from stores recently opened or closed.
The company's U.S. performance was flat. While this was a hair below the 0.3% increase Best Buy reported in the prior-year period, President and CEO Hubert Joly said in a statement that it was an improvement over the past several quarters.
Revenue at stores open at least a year declined 6.4% internationally, stung by softness in China and Canada.
Total revenue for the holiday period fell slightly to $12.8 billion from $12.9 billion.
Desktop and laptop sales in the fourth quarter fell 6.4% from a year earlier to 89.8 million, affirming the PC market's gradual decline throughout 2012, according to an industry report released Friday.
With consumers steering more of their tech budgets to tablets and smartphones, "the PC market continued to take a back seat to competing devices and sustained economic woes," says the IDC, which compiles the data via its Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker.
The 4th-quarter tumble also exceeded IDC's forecast of a 4.4% decline for the October-December period, and marks the first time in more than five years that the PC market has seen a year-on-year decline during the holiday season, its report noted.
Underscoring the PC's market's sustained weakness for much of last year, IDC also said 2012 sales worldwide fell 3.2% to 352.4 million.
In the U.S., PC sales were 4.5% lower in the fourth quarter, contributing to a decline of 7% in 2012.
While the current economic conditions that drive consumers' penny-pinching plays a role in sluggish PC demand, companies are also stretching their resources to design and market newly emerging portable devices, including tablets, smartphones that function like tablets, and ultrabooks.
Windows 8, a new operating system by Microsoft released late last year, stirred some new interest in PCs as it allowed PC makers to design and introduce computers with a touch display. But lingering questions about the use of touch on Windows PCs and the lack of applications that can fully utilize the function slowed consumer spending, says the IDC report.
"Although the third quarter was focused on the clearing of Windows 7 inventory, preliminary research indicates the clearance did not significantly boost the uptake of Windows 8 systems in the fourth quarter," said IDC analyst Jay Chou. "Lost in the shuffle to promote a touch-centric PC, vendors have not forcefully stressed other features that promote a more secure, reliable and efficient user experience."
People have decided the PC they already own is quite fine. Indeed, there is no reason to upgrade and some good reasons not to.
J.P.Morgan analysts cut their estimate for fourth-quarter GDP growth to an annualized 0.8% from a prior forecast of 1.5%.
“The trade deficit for the month was much wider than expected, and it now looks like net exports will subtract a few tenths from GDP growth in the fourth quarter,” according to a J.P. Morgan research note. Elsewhere, Barclays analysts cut their estimate for fourth-quarter GDP growth to 1.3% from 2.0%, while analysts with Morgan Stanley cut their forecast to 0.7% from 1.5%.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. trade deficit widened in November to the highest point since April. The trade gap widened 15.8% to $48.7 billion in November.
Imports rose 3.8% to $231.3 billion, the highest level since April, while exports increased 1% to $182.6 billion. Government analysts revised the deficit in October to $42.1 billion.
Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had expected the trade deficit to narrow to $41.3 billion in November from a prior October estimate of $42.2 billion. Silver lining
Some analysts saw a silver lining in Friday’s trade report.
While trade deficits cut economic growth, the pickup in both imports and exports could also be a positive signal, according to Millan Mulraine, a macro strategist at TD Securities.
“While from a GDP perspective the surge in the real deficit is a net negative for growth, the strong gains in consumer goods could be a signal in improving domestic growth momentum — even though some of the rise could be attributed to the rebound from Sandy,” Mulraine wrote in a research note.
Meanwhile, Harm Bandholz, chief U.S. economist at UniCredit Research, said the widening trade deficit indicates the relative strength of the U.S.
You have to be a real economic illiterate to see silver linings due to a hurricane and rising trade deficits, but such ignorance is unfortunately commonplace.