When I lived in New York City, I had my ear to the ground. I wouldn't say that NYC is typical of the national economy, but at least I was getting out, seeing activity, seeing people waiting in line to pay $15 for a drink and $40 for an entree, or seeing stores closing when economics didn't keep up with soaring rents, etc.
Now, living in the woods, I have to admit, I have absolutely NO first hand sense of what the state of our economy is. The trees still bloom, the grass still grow, the horses still graze. "They" tell me that economic data suggests some signs of recovery, but I can't fathom how the average American can recover when 1) jobs are scarce and 2) the home-as-ATM model which fueled the middle of the last decade is dead.
I go to Lowes, Hannafords and Sam's Club on a regular basis, but perusing these Concord hot spots doesn't give me a sense of the status of the economic recovery: if I go at noon on a Tuesday, they are empty. If I go at noon on Saturday, they are busy. I'd hesitate to draw any conclusions from that.
I was home visiting my Dad this weekend in suburban Boston. There is a little store in the little "downtown" area of his town that is PRIME retail space. It's been vacant for 18 months now, I think, and is still vacant. To me, that's one sign that not everything is "solved." If I lived in my dad's town, I'd rent that spot in a heartbeat for a retail opportunity. I even called the landlord last time I was home to ask about the rent. Let me put it this way: layup.
So, readers - I want your anecdotes. What are you seeing? Do you go to the mall and drive around for 25 minutes looking for a parking space because it's so crowded? Are you unable to get into restaurants for dinner because everyone is out spending money? Give me your channel checks from across the country!
CNN has a little 6 pack of slides today titled "My Recession is Over," with a handful of stories about people who say things are doing better. One of the front page Bloomberg stories I saw today was trumpeting how stocks are "cheaper now than at any time in the last 20 years." Of course it's no coincidence that the two mangers quoted in the article as talking about how cheap stocks are happen to manage two massive money management firms who NEED you to buy stocks. For me, the truth remains: profits look good because government spending has replaced consumer spending. That's no model for the future...
A related must read is Jeremy Grantham's quarterly letter about the latest series of bubbles the Fed is blowing, and how it all might end...
leave me your anecdotes in the comments - are you refinancing? are you buying a house? making big purchases? how are negotiations with the banks in all of these transactions?