On one level, this is a shock: Consumers who are seeing smaller paychecks should, by all rights, be holding fast to their wallets. It was just a few weeks ago that we were all fretting over leaked internal Wal-Mart e-mails in which one executive pondered “Where are all the customers? And where’s their money?”
Well, it turns out (as Wal-Mart made clear in its earnings call shortly thereafter), they were just waiting a bit until they received their delayed tax refund checks. The underlying state of consumer spending seems to be strong.
But beyond what that tells us about the consumer, think about that in the context of other recent evidence. Friday’s jobs report was quite good, and it followed a series of solid jobs numbers. Employers didn’t sweat the fiscal cliff in December. They didn’t sweat the sequester in February. Housing market indicators—construction, prices, sales—are all pointing up.
We still don’t know what impact the sequestration that went into effect March 1 will have on the broader economy; particularly in areas heavily dependent on government spending (ahem, Virginia), it could depress incomes and overall economic activity.
But the retail sales numbers Wednesday are the latest piece of evidence that just maybe, the U.S. recovery has some hidden resilience that could bode better times ahead.