While the 2016 election has turned out to be surprisingly dramatic, the surprise is the source of the drama — not the histrionics themselves.
Because — as anyone who has been taking a long look at the economy over the first three or so months of this year can quite quickly attest — it’s been exciting out there, and not exactly in a good way. While all outward signs might point to the contrary, this economy is not in Kansas anymore; it whirlwinded right over the rainbow as soon as the clock struck 2016.
By the middle of January, the stock market had shed a full trillion (with a T) of its value. By Feb. 1, 93 percent of American investors had lost money on Wall Street. By Feb. 8, another trillion had gone into the ether and headlines were starting to look a bit “the end is nyish.”
The good news is that particular hole in the economy seems to have stopped leaking — and the tub is filling up again. Slowly.
As of the evening of the latest round of Tuesday primaries, the stock market has almost — but not quite — reached the levels it was on Jan. 1.
Hooray for getting back to square one!
And the stock market hasn’t been the only source of concern.
The free-wheeling investment climate that dominated this time last year that saw every innovator with an app and a dream grabbing millions of dollars with little more than a plan to make money with that app+dream combination – at some point. Soon. Pinky swear.
Except soon is now, as investors are curious to see if all the unicorns they created are ready to be weaned of their life subsisting on VC-subsidies in favor of actually making sales and profits.
So far the results have been mixed with some quick firesale exits (Gilt), lackluster IPOs (Square), and a pervading atmosphere of doubt about how many of these services and platforms can actually be practically monetized (Twitter, WhatsApp, Instacart and the 150 delivery knock-offs it spawned).
And while the stock market is barely in a thaw, and startup investment capital remains tight, there is yet more gallows humor on offer in the economy in early 2016. Retail sales in January, which were initially reported to have gained .2 percent, actually fell by .1 percent. The good news is that those losses were erased by February's .2 percent gain, but again it remains to be seen if that growth figure will hold up. Following the data release, Barclays cut its U.S. GDP forecast to 1.9 percent, down from 2.4 percent.
And to put a cherry on top of this not so delicious sounding cake, as this story was being written news broke that China casually asked The Fed for its handbooks on what to do in case the entire economy crashes six months ago. Just in case.
Drama should have been expected. It’s just that one might have thought the drama would have been about the economy and the alarmingly expanding list of warning lights that seem to be flashing.
Fortunately or unfortunately — depending on one’s tolerance for in-depth discussions about possible economic troubles — this really has not yet been an election cycle that has been overly focused on those kinds of questions. So far we’ve more or less had a referendum on some big personalities, and their big (if vague) thoughts about how they hope to make America great/whole again.
And while we at PYMNTS have a long commitment to both greatness and wholeness, we can’t help but have this nagging feeling that while everyone in America is going to the polls, it might just be a good time to dip a thermometer into the local economies and businesses that drive the health of those local economies and give us some sense of how life is looking along the Main Streets and side streets of those local communities. You know, those communities where people live and work and raise their kids and shop – or not.
Meaning the time has come again to check in with our Store Front Business Index - Powered by CAN Capital for the update on the states hitting the polls today. It is not quite a Super Tuesday, but there will be a whole lot of voting going on this week. Arizona and Utah will have primaries for both parties, Idaho will have its Democratic contest. Democrats will also vote Saturday in Washington, Hawaii and Alaska.
We’ve already taken you to Hawaii and Alaska, so it's time to travel to Arizona, Utah and Washington State.
What’s up with those store fronts there?
Of all the states voting today, Arizona is looking at the toughest store front picture. There has been growth of late, but at 2.7 percent growth last year, it trails both the national average of 3.1 percent and the Mountain region average of 4 percent growth.
Breaking that data down, the weakest area of performance in Arizona over the last 12 months has been in establishment creation, where growth has been just slightly above flat at 0.6 percent, again trailing the national and regional average.
The picture in wage growth is somewhat better, though again, still trails both national and regional average. Real wages and employment were both up 3.7 percent in Arizona over the last 12 months, while wages were up 4.9 percent in the nation and a full 5 percent in the Mountain region, where Arizona makes its home. The employment picture is Arizona’s strongest, as at 3.7 percent it beats the national average of 3.1 percent, though it still trails the regional average of 4 percent.
Utah, as it turns out, has been one of the stronger performers tracked in the Store Front Index — leading the nation and its region in all areas tracked.
Store front growth was at an impressive 4.8 percent — blowing away the national 3.1 percent average, as well as the Mountain region's 4 percent. That strength was also apparent in the state's employment picture, which was at 5 percent (as opposed to the national 3.1 percent and the regional 4.2 percent). Establishment growth was where Utah saw the least growth, though at 3.5 percent, it remains half a percent above its region and a full 1.5 percentage points stronger than the U.S. average.
Utah’s strongest category, however, was in real wage growth, which sat at an impressive 6.3 percent — much higher than the national average of 4.9 percent or the regional average of 5 percent.
Washington is something of an outlier in this rundown, since it is both the only state not voting on Tuesday and the only state being tracked today that is not in the Mountain region, instead being located in the Pacific West.
The picture in sunny Washington state is a bit mixed. Its store front picture is solid, clocking 4.1 percent growth, as opposed to the national 3.1 percent or its nation-trailing region’s 3 percent.
The Pacific West as a region is clearly hurting in the establishment categories, as it actually clocked negative growth at -0.1 percent. By comparison, Washington is looking pretty strong, with its national average trailing 2.2 percent establishment growth.
Employment was Washington’s strongest category — beating both the national average and the regional average of 3 percent with growth in the 4.6 percent range.
Wage growth, however, was a bit more of a mixed bag. At 5.6 percent, it was sufficient to beat the national average but was unable to keep pace with the staggering growth rate in the region of 7.5 percent.