The only thing surprising about the economy right now is how surprised everyone is about the economy.
If you’ve been reading this email for any appreciable period of time, you certainly have no excuse for being flummoxed by the state of things. The writing was on the wall, whether I wrote it or not.
COVID created the first wave of supply chain issues on Day One. Entirely closed categories of commerce during quarantine created pent-up demand (and household savings to pay for it). Brand loyalty began eroding immediately as people veered toward whatever was on the shelf.
Then came stimulus, then more stimulus. All that demand and stockpiled cash were bound to create even more inventory constraints, which would inevitably lead to inflation.
And when the stock market boomed, particularly among tech and retail stocks (especially in housewares, electronics, and home improvement), it made perfect sense. Why anyone was caught off-guard by the declines in YoY earnings comps is dumbfounding. Duh.
Even Netflix’s swoon was fait accompli. COVID accelerated cord-cutting among the Luddites – most notably older ones – while a flurry of new streaming services came along, just as people had more time and money to watch TV. When a new wave of streamers entered the market, they were as likely to be lured by Yellowstone, Ted Lasso, or The Mandalorian as by any title on Netflix. With lower-cost options, not to mention easy sign-ups, cancellations, and promotions, the upstart services had huge competitive advantages.
Content might be king when people are swimming in cash. But cash is king when people are swimming in content. When cash tightens, like right now, it’s a particularly merciless king.
And when cash reigns, the intrinsic wanes. You might be surprised to learn that consumers are far less concerned about climate change, sustainability, racial justice, and corporate responsibility than they were in 2020. You shouldn’t be. It was all entirely predictable.
OK, maybe Russia, Ukraine, and the resulting surge in gas prices was unforeseeable for most of us. Nobody can anticipate everything, I suppose.
We are living through a correction right now, nothing more, nothing less. The events of the last two years may have been unprecedented, but the equal and opposite reaction is not.
Things will only get worse if we talk ourselves into it, which is what far too many pundits and bank CEOs appear inclined to do. Don’t get sucked in.
If they were that smart, they would’ve seen all this coming long ago.
Here’s what we’re seeing:
Comfort being in public spaces has been declining and it’s not just because of COVID. After a relatively stable period, Americans are expressing more concern about doing all manner of public activities. The latest wave of COVID is part of it, but not all of it. Concerns over crime and violence, particularly gun violence, are on the rise – for entirely obvious reasons. According to my high school friends on Facebook, it’s because we’re the only country in the world with mental health issues, violent video games, lax parenting, and a separation of church and state. Or maybe we’re unique in some other way. It’s a big mystery.
Restaurants can’t catch a break. Just as we started to return to normal dining trends, along came rising gas prices. While Americans are reporting spending cuts across most discretionary categories, nothing reaches the level of restaurants, where over half of U.S. adults say they’re cutting back because of increased fuel and grocery costs. Again, entirely predictable.
Summer concerts and festivals should be booming, despite financial belt-tightening. Americans – especially young ones – are planning to rock out(side) this summer, inflation be damned. Thirty percent of our respondents have already seen at least one live music performance this year, and 37% are planning to see one or more in the next few months. It jumps to 65% among Gen Zs. Among music festivalgoers, Mardi Gras, Coachella, and Burning Man are the most popular, with Bonnaroo capturing 10% of the crowd. Forty-four percent say “other” – like DelFest, which I sadly missed last weekend.
Weddings are getting completely messed up this year. A whopping 87% of expected newlyweds had their plans at least somewhat disrupted by economic or health concerns. COVID was the main culprit, year-to-date, but inflation is casting a shadow on the summer months and beyond. Rising costs and product or staffing shortages have screwed up all sorts of dream weddings. It’s been good for the wedding insurance industry – which isn’t something I even knew existed. Fortunately, bolstered household savings from the past couple years are allowing a lot of betrothed couples to power through (for now).
Online sports betting is cooling and it might not have anything to do with the economic climate. As James Carville once famously said during the 1992 presidential election, “It’s football, stupid.” OK, well, he could’ve said that, if he was Marty McFly and knew about the state of sports gambling 37 years later. Online sports betting has declined by nearly 30% since December, and it appears to have little to do with the economy. It’s mostly because people are far less likely to bet on the NBA playoffs, NHL playoffs, or (boring) early season MLB. Football is the tail that wags the online sports betting dog. If you work for any of these betting apps, you already know that.
International travel plans are up this summer, especially in the Dick household. The next time I write to all of you – provided nobody gets COVID before then – it will be from the Algarve in Portugal, where we’re visiting friends. It’s doubling as a graduation gift for Maddie, so we’re stopping in London to see a couple shows at the Globe and the West End. Anyway, we won’t be alone. Fourteen percent of Americans with summer travel plans are going international this year, up from 10% last year. You can learn about that and all kinds of other summer travel trends by reading this relaxing study.
And tons more from the CivicScientists – including everything we missed last week:
- As Pride Month begins, even among LGBTQ+ Americans, the emphasis on socially conscious brands is declining in the face of rising costs;
- Crypto investors are more confident than non-crypto-investors in the overall stock market right now, despite crypto crashing;
- Americans’ emotional well-being was a roller coaster during Mental Health Awareness Month (May) and women are feeling the worst of it (sigh);
- At-home DNA testing kits are still super-popular with younger, multicultural Americans – especially those in large families;
- We published our latest Economic Sentiment Index last week, but don’t torture yourself by reading it;
- Check out 3 important insights for the CPG category;
- Here’s everything you need to know about the adult beverages people will be consuming this summer.
These were the most popular questions this week:
- What is your preferred flavor profile for a cup of tea?
- Would you rather go through life exclusively eating spicy meals or never eating spicy food again?
- How likely are you to overcommit yourself to social engagements?
- If you could only pick one, which swimming pool feature would you choose?
- Do you typically wash your hair before a salon visit?
Answer Key: Coffee-flavored; Exclusively eating spicy food; Way, way too likely; Swim-up bar; People actually do this?
Hoping you’re well.
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In case you’re wondering, this is an informal email I write to CivicScience clients, friends, and other VIPs every Saturday morning. If you’re getting this, you’re either one of those people or were referred to me by one of them. I always love your comments and feedback.
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