Bay Area retailers impacted by economy

September 3, 2008 8:13:39 PM PDT
The economy of the bay area, California and the west has turned "sluggish." That's the finding of the Federal Reserve board, which issued its so-called "Beige Book" on Tuesday.

From the Financial District to the department stores and luxury shops around Union Square, the Bay Area is doing some belt tightening.

The Federal Reserve says job layoffs in the region are on the rise, although companies are turning to attrition when possible and cutting out already vacant jobs.

Another key finding -- retail sales are sluggish.

Consumers are not only walking out of stores with fewer shopping bags, but they're also shunning clothing and jewelry. Retailers are losing business to discount chains as shoppers look to stretch their budgets.

Sean Randolph is an economist and president of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute.

"What do you cut back on when you don't have any money to spend? You cut back on stuff that are more of the luxury items, the kind of thing that actually suggests that retail sales over the holiday season may be pretty weak," said Randolph.

Other sectors taking a hit are sellers of furniture and household appliances.

Dr. Randolph says that's to be expected with the slump in housing and construction. People don't have new houses to furnish or outfit.

The Federal Reserve's 12th District, which is headquartered in San Francisco, is an important barometer of the economy.

It's a region that encompasses nine western states, including all of the West Coast, Alaska, Hawaii, Nevada, Idaho, Utah and Arizona.

It's a region with 26.3 million workers who earn 21 percent of the nation's income.

It produces almost one-fourth of the nation's exports, ranking first in economic size among the fed's districts.

And one of the bright spots continues to be exports.

"Even though most other major economies in the world are slowing down, most of them are still doing better than we are, so there's more growth outside the U.S. than there is growth inside, and a lot of our manufacturers are doing well," said Randolph.

The western states aren't alone when it comes to a sluggish economy. Most of the other 11 districts are also experiencing similar problems.

High gasoline and food costs are major factors.


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