Surprisingly Strong Back-to-School Sales

We moved to much larger quarters yesterday, and I am somewhat out of the loop, as we await Verizon to hook up our big fat pipes, office furniture, etc. Hence, this quick, Starbucks-sourced, caffeine-fueled update.

I was not expecting very much in terms of back-to-school sales, but so far, most of what we have heard from the retailers was rather robust.

Wal-Mart reported a higher-than-expected 3.1 percent rise in August sales, almost double the 1.6% expectations. While some of the gains may be attributable to food inflation, the world’s largest retailer has been very aggressive about price cuts. Reuters noted that since July, Wal-Mart "announced price cuts of as much as 50 percent on 16,000 items — including school supplies and backpacks, to jump-start back-to-school sales."

The big winners in the same-store-sales data were Saks (plus 18.2%), Zumiez (plus 17.4%),  American Eagle Outfitters (plus 9%), Target (plus 6.1%), and Abercrombie & Fitch (plus 6%).

I mentioned a few weeks ago on Kudlow that this would be a telling sign of the strength of the U.S.consumer — and on first glance, its much better than I expected.


Good sortable table from the (free) WSWJ

click for sortable table


Retailers Post Generally Strong Sales During Back-to-School Period
WSJ, September 6, 2007 8:48 a.m.

Wal-Mart August sales beat expectations 
Reuters, September 6, 2007

WSJ, Back to School

Category: Consumer Spending, Economy, Retail

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Over at Slate, Tim Harford has an interesting discussion on a rather intriguing economic question: Why Are Poor Countries Poor? The answer is less obvious than you might imagine. The usual explanation goes something like this:  "One very plausible account of why at least some poor countries are poor is that there is no smooth…Read More

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This month is a milestone of sorts: Its the first time we have passed a million page views in a given month:


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A Demon of Our Own Design

I previously mentioned A Demon of Our Own Design in a linkfest a few weeks ago. I enjoyed the book a great deal, and just about finished it over the long weekend.

The opening paragraph just reached out and grabbed me: 

Bookstaberdemon_jacket"While it is not strictly true that I caused the two great financial
crises of the late twentieth century—the 1987 stock market crash and
the Long-Term Capital Management (LTCM) hedge fund debacle 11 years
later—let’s just say I was in the vicinity. If Wall Street is the
economy’s powerhouse, I was definitely one of the guys fiddling with
the controls. My actions seemed insignificant at the time, and
certainly the consequences were unintended. You don’t deliberately
obliterate hundreds of billions of dollars of investor money. And that
is at the heart of this book—it is going to happen again. The financial
markets that we have constructed are now so complex, and the speed of
transactions so fast, that apparently isolated actions and even minor
events can have catastrophic consequences."

Terrific stuff.

Indeed, I enjoyed the rest of the book. Bookstaber was on the scene in the early days of many of derivatives now contributing to market turmoil. He rather deftly makes complex issues readily understandable, regardless of how much advanced mathematics you may have under your belt.

And, he names names. LOTS of names. All the usual suspects come under scrutiny, as well as a lot of folks who probably assumed they were not int he public eye. There will be a lot of people not very happy with his blunt, insider descriptions of the analytical errors made by major players — many of whom are still around today and in positions of authority and power. 

He also accepts a lot of responsibility for many costly errors he himself made.   

Overall, a fun, very informative read.

I was intrigued enough by the book that I contacted Bookstaber (the author) and Wiley (the publisher), and asked for their permission to reproduce the first chapter. They graciously sent me a pdf and text version, which you will find after the jump: All of chapter one, in both text form and PDF. I also included some mainstream media reviews after the chapter. 

I have pretty good relationships with many of the publishing houses — they all want to get a book or two out of me. Anyway, if it turns out you guys like this idea, perhaps we can offer up a book or two that I am reading every month in this same format. Maybe we can have an online reading group club — it could be a good place to have a full discussion. Share your thoughts.

Enjoy chapter one.

Disclosure:  No, I don’t accept money for this — it was my idea, and I approached the publisher and author about this — not vice versa. Please don’t start bombarding me with offers to promote books I am not already reading. They will be unceremoniously deleted without response.

As noted in our disclosure section, we don’t do payola here (if you click thru and buy it on Amazon, I do see some scratch).


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Category: Books, Derivatives, Federal Reserve, Hedge Funds, Markets, Psychology