Editor’s note: Contributing columnist, Steve Nicklas, expresses his views and insights on various topics of local interest.
Judging from initial readings, the Christmas holidays may turn out to be a jolly good season — and a respectable finish to a tumultuous year.
This is not to sugar-coat a U.S. economic landscape with a 10 percent unemployment rate, a ballooning national debt, and a chaotic political scene. Or to be insensitive to those of us falling upon hard times.
Let’s count our blessings either way. Remember, just one year ago, things looked a lot worse than they do now in the financial and economic senses.
The critical Christmas shopping season has started decently. Sales overall have been above many expectations, with on-line commerce robbing some of the in-store activity. While the discount stores continue to be a prevalent force, sales have been fairly robust among even the high-end retailers. Consumers are still spending, albeit at a slower pace than in most years.
Locally, the holiday season has been ringing with activities. The Black Friday pajama party kicked things off with a bang. The annual tradition of shopping in your P.J.’s has become an area favorite; one shop reportedly had 700 individual sales for the day. Most stores opened early in the morning in downtown Fernandina Beach, and some served mimosas as shoppers strolled the streets in flannel-and-cotton comfort.
The holiday tour of historic homes was well-attended, while most merchants seem to be relieved that sales have been better than feared. Certainly, any upbeat reports must be tempered; they are more of a relief in comparison with last year, and with fearful expectations of the year-end season.
It seems that shoppers are out in other areas. Real-estate sales have been slow to moderate this fall, but at least there has been activity. In many areas, it appears the property market is at least bottoming — with prices stabilizing.
However, several surveys indicate that the mood of U..S. citizens heading into 2010 is dour, at best. Even though the stock market continues to push higher (a leading indicator), many investors cannot shake off the haunting memories of the past year. And the loss in financial net worth that they endured.
It’s just too soon, apparently, for people to feel that the worst is behind us. But there are reliable indicators that the worst has passed, and better times lie ahead.
If the number of Christmas parties is any indication, it feels like things are getting better. And the wounds of the past year are healing, or at least being drowned in spirits. Personally, I’ve never seen so many holiday parties — although much of it might be a remnant, or maybe a pent-up need, from last year.
The stockings hung by the fire may not be full this year. But at least they’re not empty. With whispers of another Great Depression still blowing in the distant wind, we should be grateful that we have avoided something much worse than what we got.
It’s like getting the second and third choices on your Christmas list. You’re happy to get something — although maybe it’s not exactly what you wished for or wanted. Let’s rejoice in that things are not worse than they area.
(Steve Nicklas is a financial advisor who lives on Amelia Island. He can be reached at 904-753-0236 or send eMail to: [email protected])