Is the economy REALLY that bad?

Recession? What? Where?  OK, so I may not be an economist or even remotely knowledgeable about such things, but what I do see is a very busy commercial sector.  I live in the Richmond, Virginia area.  Richmond is not a very big city.  Indeed, it is smaller than Charlotte, North Carolina, but way bigger than Mayberry.  Richmond was home to Circuit City.  Richmond is home to Philip Morris and several other significant companies-just not as many as it was just a few years ago.

Indeed, the economy has taken a big step downward.  However, for about the sixth weekend in a row, I’ve seen more retail traffic than the last two Christmas seasons combined.  Roads that are normally very busy, especially on weekends, have seen way more traffic.  Stores that would normally be dead on a Friday afternoon have been packed with people.  Local shopping centers have seen double or triple the amount of shoppers.  Three visits to Costco, spread over three consecutive weekends, have resulted in wait times of twenty to thirty five minutes just to check out.  It has been worse than any Christmas shopping season in recent memory and made ‘black Friday’ look like a walk in the park.

The shoppers just aren’t window shopping either.  They are spending real money.  Those Costco trips were very revealing:  EVERYONE wants high definition televisions and new computers.  I don’t know what the numbers say, but in Richmond, at least, televisions and computers seem to be doing very well.

Another sector that even the pessimists agree is doing well are video games.  Indeed they are.  Nintendo’s Wii is STILL selling well and even the Sony PSP is doing well.  In fact, recent numbers indicate that the Wii is selling 32% more than this time last year.  Nintendo is also releasing the DSi, the new DS Lite handheld, on April 4.  It is already available in Japan and is the latest mega hit from the big N.  Microsoft has much to crow about as well.  XBOX Live is doing well, very well, and sales of XBOX games are at a high.  Sony’s PSP is up 18% but the PS3 is down 16%.  Sony is not out yet, but they could do quite a bit to help the PS3, like killing off the PS2 and reducing the expensive console’s price.  Overall, though, the gaming sector is still red hot.

My personal observations-just that, observations-make me think that the economy is in much better shape than we are led to believe.  Personally, I don’t trust much of the media.  Delivering doom and gloom is what they do best.  I think part of the way the economy was covered, especially in the months leading up to the election, was to paint the former President in a much harsher light than necessary.  Just how bad things seemed to be really did depend on what network or newspaper you watched or read.  If you watched MSNBC, then you probably wanted to slit your wrists.  If you watched Fox News, you probably just dismissed it all to some left-wing ploy.  ABC was a bit more moderate.  CBS I just ignored.  Their credibility went south with Dan Rather.  NBC was, well, like MSNBC.  I the truth was somewhere between Fox News and NBC. 

At the end of January, shortly after Mr. Obama took office, things looked REALLY, REALLY bleak.  General Motors was on the verge of shutting down.  Circuit City began to wind down its operations.  NASCAR seemed like it was going to be black flagged.  Every major bank was on the verge of being taken over or worse.  President Obama convinced the nation that drastic measures had to be taken.   Fast forward to March.  Suddenly, General Motors no longer needs another loan.  They said the steps taken are sufficient to allow them to continue operations.  AIG is still hanging in there, though it still looks bad for them.  Other banks seem to be stable for the moment.  The President even said that the economy is probably not as bad as previously thought.  About the only really bad thing that came through was that Circuit City did, in fact, shut down. Its stores closed for good on March 8.  Its corporate operations should shut down in the next month or two. 

Before anyone tells me I’m out of touch, yes, I realize that un-employment is at a twenty-five year high.  Many businesses have shut down.  I am well aware of all of that.  However, I would say this in response: How many companies have used this crisis to simply pare back operations or ‘prune the fat’?  Apple is one of those companies.  So is Microsoft.  Many companies took advantage of these ‘economic times’ to fire staff when they probably did not need to do so.  Likewise, many companies did so because they had to do so.  GM is one such company.  Chrysler is another. 

I don’t know.  Just judging from what I’ve seen, the economy can’t be as bad off as we’ve been made to think.  What about your area?  Have you seen an uptick in shopping or spending?   Write back and let us know.

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