Friday, December 21, 2007

December consumer confidence falls, will common sense follow?

It is just four days before Christmas, a religious holiday and also consumer celebration of spending. Today the Reuters/University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index for December came in at 75.5. November's reading was 76.1.

What does it mean? What can it mean?

Consumers -- people who buy things in order to live -- are less confident about their finances and for good reason. The global financial house of cards has turned consumers' houses into poker chips. The consumer confidence index is often explained as indicating the prospects for consumer spending -- two thirds of economic activity -- without questioning the premise that unbridled consumer spending is good. Consumer spending has been enabled by an artificial inflation of residential real estate prices. Consumer spending has been a speculative excess of sorts.

Now, reality is sinking in and consumers, who earn money presumably through productive activity, are seeing a bleak near-term future.

Time for a little less debt-fueled spending. Time for a little reality-based home economics. A house is a home if you can make the mortgage payments. And you can make the mortgage payments if you resist buying cheap junk you don't actually need. Go for it. Make a new year's resolution to spend less than you earn.

It's okay. You, the consumer, are not responsible for sustaining the economy while slitting your own pockets.