The U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today that 3.1 million jobs opened up last month, representing an increase of 2.3%, the highest number since 2008. As the job market improved, spending picked up. Retail sales increased 0.4% from February to March—that’s the 9th consecutive month that consumer spending increased. Consumers purchased a wide variety of household-related goods and furniture (furniture sales were up almost 3.6%, the highest in more than 6 years), including, weirdly, mattresses. (Tempur-Pedic, International raised its sales outlook for 2011, according to the Wall Street Journal.) Consumers also bought books, clothes, sporting goods, and they dined out more. Everyone seems to be in agreement that temporary income-tax cut savings balanced off higher gas prices.
With retail sales going up, you might think that malls would be holding on. Not so. According to Bloomberg, vacancies at U. S. regional malls rose to the highest percentage in at least a decade in the first quarter. The vacancy rate for malls now stands at 9.1 percent, and analysts attribute this figure to the recent bankruptcy of Borders Group, Inc., closings by Macy’s Inc., the no. 2 department store in the U.S., and to the lingering impact of the recession. And by the way, non-store retailers (includes Internet sellers), fell by 0.3%. Something to think about.
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