Saturday, January 15, 2011

Once More to the Mall

Alma and I invited our friend Adrienne over to our place for lunch yesterday. By the time we had eaten and talked, it was too late to go to the beach while there was still sufficient daylight out. Even though the weather has been nicer the past few days, after the sun sets the temperature cools rapidly. So we prefer to arrive at the beach no later than 3 p.m., so that we can finish our walk before the sun sets.

Well, Adrienne did not leave our place yesterday until 3:45 p.m. and, because she does not drive, we had to give her a ride back to her place. Result is that it was 4:15 before we were ready to start our walk. Since the sun sets right now at about 5 p.m. this meant we had no opportunity to do our 90-minute walk at the beach while the sun still shone. So it was back again to the Westfield Culver City mall for another 90-minute perambulation through consumer hell.

Not much has changed there since I last reported. Except I'm getting a funny feeling that all is not well in consumer mecca. When I last reported, Alma and I had our eyes on 4 stores that had closed or were in the process of closing. To that list, I can now add at least two more that show signs of impending closure. The four anchor stores (BestBuy, Target, Macy's and J.C. Penney) show no signs of any serious malaise. But the aisles of the four anchors all seem fairly empyt. The food court still seems popular, as do the retailers Game Stop, Claires and Bath and Body Works. The stores that seem to be suffering are all small retailers, mostly clothiers and parfumeries. They're offering sales prices of 70% off and have signs saying that "everything must go". And still I see very few people in any of the stores.

It seems to me as if much of the rah-rah talk of the mainstream media about economic recovery has little bearing in reality, based on what I have seen. In fact, with earnings season commencing as retailers report final quarter of 2010 results, I remain very cautious in how much of my portfolio is exposed to stocks. I have not gone so far as to take significant short positions, but I am sharply restricting how much of our net worth is in long positions in stocks.

I told Alma today that I plan no further commentaries from the mall. The weather remaining nice has allowed Alma and me to walk on the beach today and presumably we will be able to walk the beach again tomorrow.  So my commentary will again return to beach-related themes beginning with my next post. But I will be keeping an eye on the economy and commenting as I see fit as events unfold. I hope I am wrong about what is coming, even as I feel this sense of strong forboding. I think we are looking at a classic double-dip recession beginning in this quarter. We shall see.

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