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Watch Shoppers – Not CNBC…

Watch what people do not what they say. Sales for the full first weekend of holiday shopping – Thursday through Sunday – are up 16.4% versus a year ago according to the National Retail Federation. The American economy is not going to fall off a cliff – consumers are showing the way.

Something doesn’t make sense to me. Cable television told the American consumer to burrow deep in a hidey hole, “a double-dip recession (which has never occurred in the history of our nation) was on its way….” After all we have no stimulus bill, the not so Super Committee failed and Europe is about to completely collapse. But the bazillion (a financial term) people in those shopping mall lines on Black Friday demonstrated an important idea – it’s not words but actions that drive the bottom line. Shoppers flooded Wal-Mart in numbers that make the Wall Street Occupiers look like amateurs. On “Cyber Monday” (a term not even created 15 years ago) we saw a 20% increase in sales. Astounding!

Over the past two years, US consumers are blowing away expectations. Sales for the full first weekend of holiday shopping – Thursday through Sunday – are up 16.4% versus a year ago according to the National Retail Federation. On average each customer spent about 9% more than a year ago, while 7% more shoppers hit the stores.

All the retail shopping data is consistent: ShopperTrak, a monitoring device at 40,000 retail outlets and malls around the country, reported a 6.6% gain in Black Friday sales. This blows away last year’s dismal gain of just 0.3%. ComScore, a digital marketing service, says Black Friday online sales were up 26% from a year ago. This was echoed by Coremetrics, another online data aggregator, which says Black Friday internet sales were up 24% and Thanksgiving Day sales were up 39%.

Soon we’ll receive figures on auto sales in November and it looks like they could be up for the third month in a row and about 9 – 10% YOY.

What are all the pouting pundits on the cable programs like CNBC and other media-heads missing? It seems they want to focus on the overall unemployment rate (past), rather than the trend (future). Last November the unemployment rate was 9.8%…now, it’s 9.0%. Private payrolls are up an average of 152,000 per month in the past year.

Total private wages and salaries are up 4% from a year ago. Meanwhile, consumers have whittled down their debts, so that monthly financial obligations – mortgages, rent, car loans/leases, and other debt services – are now the lowest share of after-tax income since the early 1990s. Consumers are saving more and closely monitoring their spending.

Regardless of the media, consumers appear more confident about their future and desire to spend their hard-earned income this holiday season.

Don’t get wrapped up in the panic, celebrate the joy we’ve seen on both sides of the cash register!

Steve Booren

Steve Booren is the Owner and Founder of Prosperion Financial Advisors, located in Greenwood Village, Colo. He is the author of Blind Spots: The Mental Mistakes Investors Make and Intelligent Investing: Your Guide to a Growing Retirement Income and a regular columnist in The Denver Post. He was recently named a Barron's Top Financial Advisor and recognized as a Forbes Top Wealth Advisor in Colorado.

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Date: 11/28/2011