The Economy: Consumer Crosscurrents

As the big-buying Christmas season begins, there are crosscurrents in the mood of the U.S. consumer. On one hand, the Commerce Department reported last week that fewer consumers than a year ago plan to buy such "heavy" items as houses, expensive household appliances, or cars, though the tens of thousands of people at the annual Detroit Auto Show certainly seemed enthusiastic. On the other hand, J. C. Penney, Associated Dry Goods, R. H. Macy and Gimbels reported all-time-high earnings for the quarter ending in October, and most major retailers predict a green, green Christmas. Behind these contradictions is the...

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