Other news is largely ignored. In the October consumer survey, one in four respondents brought up the negative impact of tariffs. Just 2 percent mentioned the impeachment inquiry into President Trump.
At the Mall of America, Charles Barr was feeling flush from his promotion to general manager at Popeye’s and the $200-a-week raise that came with it. Seated outside the restaurant, which overlooks a snaking orange roller coaster, Mr. Barr said he splurged on two purchases this year: a used GMC Acadia for $30,000 and a 70-inch television for $900 from Best Buy. “A man is measured by the size of his television,” he said, laughing.
Business managers and executives tend to focus on a wider landscape. Nearly two-thirds of chief executives surveyed by the Conference Board in September talked about the troubling and lasting fallout from the trade war.
“We definitely have a cautious eye on what’s going on,” said Adam Briggs, vice president for sales and marketing at Trans-Matic Manufacturing, a metal stamper in Holland, Mich., that employs 275 people. He mentioned tariffs, slowing manufacturing and persistent uncertainty.
“We’re definitely taking the same steps as more companies are right now, and scrutinizing capital investment,” Mr. Briggs said. While “2020 is not going to be 2009,” he added, “most people believe the economy is not going to grow and may shrink a little bit.”
But business and consumer outlooks can diverge for only so long, economists say. They are part of the same feedback loop.
Businesses that are wary, like Trans-Matic and Northwest Woods, pull back on spending, hiring and pay increases. Those moves can push up the unemployment rate, hold down wages and worry consumers, who in turn become more cautious about spending. And that further undermines business confidence, which … well, you get the idea.