America’s Rapidly Accelerating Retail Apocalypse Is Being Fueled By One Enormously Painful Economic Problem

We are in the midst of the worst retail apocalypse in American history, and it seems to be getting worse with each passing month.  Many of the “experts” blame the growth of online retailers, and without a doubt online retail sales have been surging.  In fact, I sell far more through Amazon.com than I do through any other channel.  But the truth is that online retailers are not exactly taking over the world.  At this point, 91 percent of all retail sales still take place in brick-and-mortar stores, and that means that online retailers only account for about 9 percent of all retail sales.  Sadly, there is a much bigger reason why thousands of retail stores are closing down and millions upon millions of square feet of retail space is now sitting empty all over America.  The mighty U.S. consumer base was once primarily made up of middle class Americans, but the middle class in America has been on a slow, steady death spiral for many years.

So now the experts tell us that retailers that cater to high income and low income Americans are thriving, and those that once did so well selling to the middle class are fading away

The middle is disappearing — low and middle-income customers increasingly shop at discounters and dollar stores, forcing retailers that once served these customers, like Bon-Ton and its subsidiary brands, to close shop,” analysts from intelligence firm Gartner L2 wrote in a recent report on department stores.

The slow decline of the middle class in America has had an impact on retailers that haven’t adapted to the change. Increasingly, the most successful businesses in the sector have become more distinctly split into two sections: luxury and budget stores.

When I was growing up, it seemed like almost everyone that I knew was “middle class”, and the mall was the place to go on the weekends.

But now shopping malls are dying all over the country.  In fact, one brand new report says that shopping malls have not been this empty in the U.S. since we were coming out of the last recession

U.S. malls haven’t been this empty since 2012, when the retail industry was clawing its way back after the Great Recession, according to a new report from real estate research firm Reis.

The vacancy rate at regional and super regional malls reached 8.6 percent in the second quarter of 2018, based on a survey by Reis of 77 metropolitan areas across the country. That was up from 8.4 percent in the prior period, and a high not seen since the third quarter of 2012, when the vacancy rate was 8.7 percent.

If the U.S. economy really is in “good shape”, why is this happening?

And the numbers for “local shopping centers” are actually even worse

The vacancy rate last quarter, 10.2%, was higher than at malls in part because of hundreds of Toys “R” Us store closures.

Vacancies at local shopping centers increased in more than 70% of metro areas. Indianapolis, Dayton, and Wichita had the highest rates in the country.

If you didn’t know any better, you would be tempted to think that “Space Available” and “Going Out Of Business” were two of the hottest new retailers in the entire nation.

And the numbers that I just shared with you are actually quite understated.  In one of his most recent articles, Wolf Richter explained why this is the case…

But these numbers are deceptive – because something counts as “vacant” only when the landlord tries to fill it with another retailer.

Stores that emptied out and became zombie stores in zombie malls, or the Toys ‘R’ Us stores in bad areas with zero hopes of finding another retail tenant, etc. – they’re not being counted as “vacant” retail space because they’re no longer being marketed as retail space, and the square footage of that retail space disappears from the vacant retail space stats.

That space may remain shuttered and vacant for years, with a fence around that is catching tumbleweeds, as lenders tussle over who gets what, if anything, until the land can hopefully be sold to a developer who might bulldoze the walls and build an apartment complex on it.

We have never been through anything like this in modern American history.

2017 was the worst year for retail store closings in the United States that we have ever seen.  The number of retail stores that closed approximately tripled the number from 2016, and this year we are definitely on pace to shatter the record that we set last year.

And yet Americans continue to be exceedingly optimistic.  A poll that was just released found that 55 percent of all Americans believe that our best days are still ahead of us.

Hopefully they are right, but in the short-term things are looking rather grim.

For example, just today we learned that Sears is shutting down even more stores

Sears Holdings, which owns both chains, said it informed employees Thursday that it would be shuttering nine Sears stores and one Kmart in late September. Liquidation is scheduled to begin as early as July 13, the company said in a statement.

With the additions, a total of 78 stores – 62 Sears and 16 Kmart locations – will close in September.

Of course Sears is not the only major retailer that is slowly liquidating.  Many of the biggest names in the entire retail world have announced that they are closing at least 100 locations in 2018.  The following comes from CNN

Six hundred Walgreens have closed this year, while Bon-Ton, Sears and Kmart, Best Buy, Signet Jewelers, Mattress Firm, and GNC have all closed 200 stores or more this year. Claire’s, Foot Locker, and The Children’s Place have closed 100 or more locations.

If we still had a strong middle class, this would not be happening.

Not too long ago, I shared with you some absolutely shocking numbers about the decline of the middle class, and I would like to share them with you again now…

#1 78 million Americans are participating in the “gig economy” because full-time jobs just don’t pay enough to make ends meet these days.

#2 In 2011, the average home price was 3.56 times the average yearly salary in the United States.  But by the time 2017 was finished, the average home price was 4.73 times the average yearly salary in the United States.

#3 In 1980, the average American worker’s debt was 1.96 times larger than his or her monthly salary.  Today, that number has ballooned to 5.00.

#4 In the United States today, 66 percent of all jobs pay less than 20 dollars an hour.

#5 102 million working age Americans do not have a job right now.  That number is higher than it was at any point during the last recession.

#6 Earnings for low-skill jobs have stayed very flat for the last 40 years.

#7 Americans have been spending more money than they make for 28 months in a row.

#8 In the United States today, the average young adult with student loan debt has a negative net worth.

#9 At this point, the average American household is nearly $140,000 in debt.

#10 Poverty rates in U.S. suburbs “have increased by 50 percent since 1990”.

#11 Almost 51 million U.S. households “can’t afford basics like rent and food”.

#12 The bottom 40 percent of all U.S. households bring home just 11.4 percent of all income.

#13 According to the Federal Reserve, 4 out of 10 Americans do not have enough money to cover an unexpected $400 expense without borrowing the money or selling something they own.

#14 22 percent of all Americans cannot pay all of their bills in a typical month.

#15 Today, U.S. households are collectively 13.15 trillion dollars in debt.  That is a new all-time record.

This is why so many U.S. retailers are failing.

The once mighty U.S. consumer base is being hollowed out because the middle class in America is being eviscerated.

Yes, the wealthy are doing quite well for the moment, but an increasing number of signs indicate that things are about to take a negative turn for them as well.

For instance, just consider the following example from CNBC

Manhattan real estate had its worst second quarter since the financial crisis, with prices and sales dropping and inventory rising, according to a new report.

Total sales in Manhattan fell 17 percent in the second quarter from a year ago, according a report from Douglas Elliman and Miller Samuel Real Estate Appraisers and Consultants.

If we don’t find a way to turn things around, what we have witnessed so far is just the beginning.

The middle class will continue to die, retailers all over the country will continue to go out of business, and shopping malls will continue to turn into ghost towns.

And once we plunge into another recession, all of the trends that I have been talking about in this article are going to start moving much more quickly.  We truly are on the edge of disaster, and most Americans have absolutely no idea what is coming.

Michael Snyder is a nationally syndicated writer, media personality and political activist. He is the author of four books including The Beginning Of The End and Living A Life That Really Matters.

The Retail Apocalypse Accelerates: Collapsing Holiday Sales Are A Signal That A Recession Is Coming

Retail Apocalypse - Photo by Justin CozartRetail sales during the four day Thanksgiving weekend were down a whopping 11 percent from last year.  This is a “make or break” time of the year for many retailers, and if things don’t turn around during the coming weeks we could see a tsunami of store closings in January and February.  As you read this article, there is already more than a billion square feet of retail space sitting empty in the United States.  Many have described the ongoing collapse of the retail industry as an “apocalypse”, and this apocalypse appears to be accelerating.  Yes, the shift to online retailers is a significant factor, but as you will see below even online retailers struggled over the holiday weekend.  The sad truth of the matter is that U.S. consumers are tapped out and are drowning in debt at this point, so they simply do not have as much money to spend as they once did.

According to the National Retail Federation, 5.2 percent fewer Americans shopped online or at retail stores over the past weekend.  Those that did shop spent an average of 6.4 percent less money than consumers did last year.

So if less people shopped, and they spent less money on average, that means that total retail sales must have been way down.

And indeed they were.  As the New York Times has reported, total retail sales were down an astounding 11 percent…

Sales, both in stores and online, from Thanksgiving through the weekend were estimated to have dropped 11 percent, to $50.9 billion, from $57.4 billion last year, according to preliminary survey results released Sunday by the National Retail Federation. Sales fell despite many stores’ opening earlier than ever on Thanksgiving Day.

And though many retailers offered the same aggressive discounts online as they did in their stores, the web failed to attract more shoppers or spending over the four-day holiday weekend than it did last year, the group said. The average person who shopped over the weekend spent $159.55 at online retailers, down 10.2 percent from last year.

No wonder there was less violence on Black Friday this year.

Traffic at retailers was way down.

Of course some analysts are trying to put a positive spin on all of this.  For example, the CEO of the National Retail Federation says that this could actually be a sign that the economy is improving

As the WSJ reports, NRF’s CEO Matt Shay attributed the drop to a combination of factors, including the fact that retailers moved promotions earlier this year in attempt to get people out sooner and avoid what happened last year when people didn’t finish their shopping because of bad weather.

Also did we mention the NRF is perpetually cheery and always desperate to put a metric ton of lipstick on a pig? Well, hold on to your hats folks:

He also attributed the declines to better online offerings and an improving economy where “people don’t feel the same psychological need to rush out and get the great deal that weekend, particularly if they expected to be more deals,” he said.

And of course the sprint vs marathon comparisons, such as this one: “The holiday season and the weekend are a marathon not a sprint,” NRF Chief Executive Officer Matthew Shay said on a conference call. Odd how that metaphor is never used when the (seasonally-adjusted) sprint beats the marathoners.

So there you have it: a 11% collapse in retail spending has just been spun as super bullish for the US economy, whereby US consumers aren’t spending because the economy is simply too strong, and the only reason they don’t spend is because they will spend much more later. Or something.

The retail industry is absolutely brutal at this point.  It is flooded with very large competitors that are chasing fewer and fewer disposable dollars.

In order to thrive, retailers need financially healthy consumers.  But over time, U.S. consumers have been getting deeper and deeper into debt.  The chart posted below shows that consumer credit in the United States has doubled since the year 2000…

Consumer Credit 2014

Meanwhile, the long-term trend for real median household income since the year 2000 has been down…

Real Median Household Income 2014

In order for Americans to spend money, they have to make money first.

Unfortunately, the quality of our jobs continues to plummet.

As I have written about previously, 50 percent of all American workers currently make less than $28,031 a year at their jobs.  And here are some more numbers from a report that the Social Security Administration recently released…

-39 percent of American workers made less than $20,000 last year

-52 percent of American workers made less than $30,000 last year

-63 percent of American workers made less than $40,000 last year

-72 percent of American workers made less than $50,000 last year

So in order for a typical American family to bring in $50,000 a year or more both parents usually have to work.

Sometimes they both have to work more than one job.

And with the cost of living constantly rising, family budgets are being squeezed more than ever.  That is why families have less money to spend at retail stores these days.  For even more on the current financial condition of American families, please see my previous article entitled “Are You Better Off This Thanksgiving Than You Were Last Thanksgiving?

It is time for retailers in America to face the fact that economic conditions have fundamentally changed.  U.S. consumers simply are not in as good shape as they used to be.

In addition, online retailers are going to continue to steal sales from traditional retail locations.  This means that more stores are going to close and more retail space is going to be abandoned.

As I mentioned above, more than a billion square feet of retail space is aleady sitting vacant in the United States.  And retail consultant Howard Davidowitz is projecting that up to half of all shopping malls in the U.S. may shut down within the next couple of decades

Within 15 to 20 years, retail consultant Howard Davidowitz expects as many as half of America’s shopping malls to fail. He predicts that only upscale shopping centers with anchors like Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus will survive.

In the years ahead, it is going to become normal to see boarded up strip malls and abandoned shopping centers all over the country.

The golden age of retail is over, and now most retailers will have to work incredibly hard to survive the apocalypse that is unfolding right before our eyes.