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Is the glass now better than half full?

Like you, I’m always looking for signs that the recovery is really happening, that it’s not fizzling out, and we can anticipate improving boat sales. That’s why this week’s Commerce Department report on consumer spending has me seeing the glass better than half full, and it merits comment.

According to the announcement, confidence is growing that the recovery will continue even if we may feel like recovery is being pulled up against its will. In February, consumers increased their spending by 0.3 percent. It’s the fifth consecutive monthly rise. That’s positive news and should be reason for some added enthusiasm in our sales departments.

That said, I can’t help but recall the glass is also part empty. Looking at that, I see the report indicated the pickup in spending was actually down from the higher 0.4 percent in January. Moreover, it was the smallest increase since last September. That may raise concern for some people. Is it a sign the recovery is losing color? I don’t think so.

What we must recall are the circumstances of that time. I refer to the fact that the country, particularly the eastern half, was being blasted in February by near record bad weather — lots of it! As I see it, that alone would explain the drop of 0.1 percent.

As evidence, I own a building in Brooklyn, N.Y., that I rent to Ebee’s clothing store. I called my tenant and asked about his February sales.

“It was horrible,” he lamented. “There was so much ice and snow and wind chill even I didn’t want to come out. Our February was off almost 25 percent.”

With that perspective, a drop of 0.1 percent in February’s consumer spending is hardly a basis to see the glass half empty.

I found some other good news buried in the Commerce Department report. Savings rates dropped. Consumers put away 3.1 percent of their disposable income. That’s down from 3.4 percent in January and well off the highest rate of 5.7 percent recorded in April 2009 when consumers were really hunkered down. February’s rate is the lowest in 16 months. I see it as a good indication consumers are moving toward more spending, just as cultural anthropologist Dr. Grant McCracken has predicted.

McCracken’s research concluded that we Americans spend and don’t save because it’s cultural. We were born into the richest, most successful society in world history. We simply can’t see ourselves as having less, and we spend to fashion a life as we imagine it to be — the good life. His conclusions were published recently by the Harvard Press in “Why American Consumers Will Spend Lavishly Again.”

As we head into our prime April-to-June spring selling season, the news is positive. I’m not suggesting for a minute that our waters won’t continue to be choppy this year. They will. But there is sufficient evidence to be certain this spring selling season is framed by a significantly better economic climate the dismal time of a year ago.

That message alone should help our whole dealership team view this spring as the best opportunity in some time to do better.


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