Americans’ Personal Outlook for 2014: The “Blahs” Have It

economic pessimismThe U.S. stock market may have achieved record-high performance in 2013, but a December 2013 poll of American consumers, conducted by Harris Interactive, is painting a decidedly different picture when it comes to the outlook for the New Year.

The degree of pessimism manifests itself in a higher percentage of adults believing that the economy will get worse (~32%) compared to those who feel it will get better (~27%).

The most optimistic contingent are Baby Boomers (age 49 to 67), where nearly 30% feel the economy will improve in 2014.  The opposite is true with the very youngest group (age 18 to 36), where only ~23% think the American economy will improve this year.

And the most pessimistic group when it comes to believing the economy will get worse?  That would be the oldest contingent (people age 68 and older), ~40% of whom share this opinion.

The message Americans seem to be sending is this:  “We may be in the fifth year of a recovery … but we’re still waiting for it to hit us.”

Comparing these Harris figures to what the pollsters recorded a year earlier, it’s interesting that the percentage of people who envision the economy “staying the same” has grown by ~11 percentage points.  So, treading water appears to be the order of the day.

How Americans are responding in their own personal lives to their views of the economy correlate to their level of general optimism or pessimism.  Here’s what the survey found in terms of their intentions for the year:

  • Cut back on my household spending:  ~45%
  • Save more in the year ahead:  ~40%
  • Pay down my debt level:  ~40%
  • Save more for retirement:  ~23%
  • Get rid of one or more credit card:  ~15%

Broadly speaking, the Harris poll findings point to a distinctly blasé environment.  And it helps explain the mediocre holiday shopping season we just witnessed – more than inclement weather and a shorter shopping days calendar can explain.

More Harris Interactive poll result details are available here.

Twitter’s Law of Unintended Consequences

As I’ve outlined in a recent blog post, where Twitter has shown it has “legs” isn’t in the area most hyped by its founders.

As it turns out, “What are you doing?” hasn’t been much of a foundation for building a money-making social media platform. And in fact, the inevitable media backlash has now set in — even as the number of new Twitter users have begun to plateau and the majority of current members use the service hardly at all.

But hard on the heels of the Iranian and Moldovan unrest, in which Twitter played an important role facilitating the organizing of anti-government public demonstrations, comes another use of Twitter that few could have foreseen.

A recent article by Steven Sears in Barron’s Magazine outlines how Twitter is being used to affect the share price of stocks. According to Sears, “Before the market opens and throughout the trading day, Twitter lets you tap into market-moving news .. and link through attached URLs to more detailed analysis … You can control your information streams by deciding who to follow, and who can follow you.”

That’s hardly revolutionary behavior. But here’s the interesting part: By law, brokers must save instant messages and e-mail correspondence, but no such mandate exists for tweets on Twitter.

What this means is that some of the more sensitive information or speculation about a company makes it onto Twitter long before it’s broached elsewhere.

One example noted in the Sears article was Matrixx Initiatives, the manufacturer of Zicam nasel spray. Speculation that using Zicam might damage people’s sense of smell started to circulate on Twitter. The result? The stock price fell dramatically from $19 to $13 … and those following the news about Matrixx on Twitter were “in the know” a lot sooner than others.

So here we have yet another example of the unintended consequences of adopting new communications techniques. Twitter is effectively replacing instant messaging capabiliites — without the attendent legal paper-trail requirements.

I wonder what’s next?