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Interesting U.S. and global economic data

By Tiffany Montgomery
July 28, 2008 5:25 AM

I caught up on my Wall Street Journal reading this weekend, and saw several stories of interest to global action sports companies that give some insight into the U.S., European and Russian economies.

Here's a summary:

Dockworkers stage slowdowns

I reported earlier this month that West Coast dock workers were working without a contract as of July 1 and that nobody expected a strike. Well, the workers have been staging slowdowns as negotiations continue.

Last week, the association that represents terminal operators and cargo carriers on the West Coast announced that worker slowdowns, which started in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach earlier this month, have expanded to Oakland. The slowdown is unnerving some shippers because the Christmas rush is expected to start soon, according the WSJ.

Los Angeles and Long Beach remain the U.S.'s busiest combined port complex. A recent study by a professor at UC Berkeley said the downside of the just-in-time global-supply chain means trying to reroute cargo quickly is too difficult and costly for many shippers.

Some positive U.S. economic data

Orders for durable goods, or goods lasting more than three years, climbed 0.8 percent in June. While soft, economists took heart that the number was not terrible.

Another report showed that sales of single-family homes fell 0.6 percent in June, a smaller drop than expected.

A measure of business equipment spending increased 1.4 percent in June after falling in May. Year over year, the barometer has increased 3.8 percent, according the WSJ.

Finally, one consumer-sentiment index was 61.2 percent in July, up from 56.4 in June. Economists still believe consumer spending will be slow in the near to medium term.

Luxury good sales holding up

While consumer spending is slowing in many areas, luxury good sales in the U.S. are weathering the storm.

Hermés International reported last week that its sales between April and June grew 10 percent in the Americas, while the company that owns Cartier and Montblanc reported a six percent increase in the Americas for the same period.

Burberry Group sales in the Americas climbed 27 percent and wristwatch maker Patek Phillippe is on track to sell out of its entire U.S. inventory for the year.

At Saks Fifth Avenue, sales of trendy handbags have been soft while sales of high-end brands and branded jewelry continue to sell well.

The WSJ theorizes that luxury brands have been helped by their increased offering of entry level products, foreign tourists, and affluent Americans who are willing to pay for investment-grade luxury goods.

Europe data points to economic weakness

Several reports show that the 15-nation Euro Zone is hurting from high commodity costs, slowing global demand and the strong Euro.

A key survey of purchasing managers at 5,000 Euro Zone firms showed that activity such as new orders and output in the manufacturing and service sectors contracted for the second month in a row, hitting its lowest level since Nov. 2001.

Business confidence in Germany fell to the lowest level in June since Sept. 2005, while France's business climate index fell to a three-year low. Italy's business climate index hit its lowest level since Oct. 2001.

Other worrisome data includes Spain's unemployment rate rising to a three-year high of 10.4 percent in the second quarter as the country struggles with a real-estate bust.

Meanwhile, annual Euro-Zone inflation hit 4 percent in June, above the European Central Bank's preferred range of just below 2 percent. The European Central Bank had been predicting the Euro Zone economy would grow 1.8 percent in 2008 and 1.5 percent in 2009, but economists expect to the bank to downgrade those forecasts.

Outside the Euro Zone, retail sales in the U.K. in June fell 3.9 percent, their largest monthly fall since records began in 1986. Sweden's unemployment rate rose 8.1 percent in June from May's 5.9 percent rate.

U.S. mall developer targets Russia

Several action sports brands, including Quiksilver, are pushing into Russia.

So is U.S. mall developer Developers Diversified Realty Corp., which plans to build three malls a year in Russia and the Ukraine over the next seven years, the WSJ reports.

Russia's economy grew 8.1 percent in 2007, yet the amount of shopping space is relatively low. There, the volume of shopping space per 1,000 inhabitants makes up about 420 square feet. In the U.S., there is 25,758 square feet of shopping space available for every 1,000 people.

The Journal reports that 54 million square of new shopping space is scheduled to be completed in Russia over the next three years, the largest development pipeline of shopping center space in Europe.

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