Holiday Barometers

We all know what's been going down: the housing market, the stock market, and easy consumer credit. Unfortunately, the U.S. Labor Department also reported jobs going down—4,000 jobs were lost in August. What's been going up, meanwhile, is the cost of living—energy, food, and health care. During the summer, both Wal-Mart and Home Depot released disappointing sales figures, another worrisome indicator that consumer spending—the engine of the American economy—might be starting to misfire on a few cylinders. Any of these factors on its own could spark a downward trend in buying; therefore logic would indicate that all of them combined should almost certainly portend a sizable drop in consumer spending. But it hasn't. At press time, reports showed back-to-school sales chugging healthily along. According to a Sept. 6 article on USA Today's Web site, same-store sales at Wal-Mart w

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