THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Flat incomes suggest weak spending ahead

Sarah Hodges looked at a camera while shopping at a Super Target in Durham, N.C. Sarah Hodges looked at a camera while shopping at a Super Target in Durham, N.C. (Gerry Broome/ Associated Press)
By Martin Crutsinger
Associated Press / October 31, 2009

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

  • E-mail|
  • Print|
  • Reprints|
  • |
Text size +

WASHINGTON - Flat incomes suggest more weakness ahead in consumer spending, reinforcing concerns about a ho-hum holiday shopping season and a sluggish economic recovery.

“This recovery is going to be very weak. Consumers are in no position or mood to spend. Their wages are down and they can’t get credit,’’ said Sung Won Sohn, an economics professor at California State University’s Smith School of Business.

Concerns about the economy sparked by disappointing government data on spending and incomes sent stocks down yesterday, erasing the previous day’s big gains. The Dow Jones industrial average lost about 250 points, and broader indexes also fell.

The Commerce Department reported that personal incomes were stagnant in September while the all-important wage and salary category dropped 0.2 percent, as unemployment rose.

Consumer spending - which accounts for 70 percent of economic activity - dropped 0.5 percent, the first decline in five months and the biggest since December.

The spending retreat reflected a sharp falloff in auto sales following a spike in August from the government’s Cash for Clunkers program.

The overall economy, as measured by the gross domestic product, grew at a 3.5 percent rate from July through September, signaling an end to the longest recession since the 1930s.

But analysts said the income and spending report underscored fears about a weak recovery. The most pessimistic worry the nation could be headed for a double-dip recession as consumers, concerned about further job losses and their tattered investment holdings, refrain from spending.

Some analysts believe that GDP growth, which received a big boost from the government’s stimulus programs in the third quarter, will slow to 2 percent or less in the current quarter.

David Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poor’s in New York, said a recent spike in energy prices and other problems will depress sales in coming weeks.