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July 6, 2012 6:29 PM

Retail

Retail's Second-Half Hope

The big worry right now is retail this year is going to be something like the San Diego's Big Bay Boom bust. The city's Fourth of July fireworks went off early and all at once and were over in...

The big worry right now is retail this year is going to be something like the San Diego's Big Bay Boom bust. The city's Fourth of July fireworks went off early and all at once and were over in about 15 seconds. There was a bright flash, lots of smoke and a disappointed crowd.

The U.S. consumer world also got off to a big start this year. Stores were stocked with refreshingly bright fashions, the weather was warm, stock markets were up, the economy added more than 250,000 jobs in both January and February -- everything seemed to be OK at last.

There was a feeling that was almost, but not quite, "We're back, baby." But that wasn't the case. Unemployment was still high, Europe had only papered over its problems and China was just beginning to ease off its growth trajectory.

American manufacturing is now starting to feel the pinch of weakness abroad, which means manufacturing workers will have less money in their pockets to spend at stores, who will cut workers if things get bad enough and on down the line.

Corinna Freedman, an analyst at Wedbush Securities Inc., told me it was like the U.S. was getting reinfected, having caught a bug in 2008 and passed it on to Europe and Asia only to see it cycle back. There's something to that.

Macy's Inc. honcho Terry Lundgren blamed weak June sales on "a macroeconomic environment that is stagnant at best."

We are not back yet.

Even so, this is not 2008. And even in a stagnant world, Macy's is sticking by its same-store sales projections for the year, calling for a 3.7 percent gain. There's lots of time left in the year and the best parts -- the back to school and holiday seasons -- are still ahead.

Retailers have not been planning inventories for the best and so, if they get hit with the worst, it will be a shock, but a milder shock than it was in 2008.

This is the second half. We are heading into the time of year that retail dreams are made of.

Yes, things are likely to be bad, maybe a little bad, maybe a lot bad. But not so bad as they'd be if retail got so glum it didn't let itself dream a little.
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