Guest Post: Just A Holiday Reminder - Black Friday Is Utterly Meaningless

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Charles Hugh Smith from Of Two Minds

Guest Post: Just A Holiday Reminder: Black Friday Is Utterly Meaningless

You'd never know it from the media coverage, but Black Friday sales are essentially meaningless noise in the U.S. economy.

You know the economy and stock market are in deep trouble when the Mainstream Media elevates one essentially meaningless metric to "The One Meaningful Statistic" and then trumpets it slavishly. One such meaningless metric is Black Friday.

The Media has glommed onto Black Friday for a number of flawed reasons, number one being the MSM's ceaseless drive to reduce all complex problems down to something that can be expressed in a sound-bite voiceover and a video clip of a crowded mall.

The MSM loves binaries: two parties, two final contestants, and if Black Friday is "good," i.e. sales exceed last year's consumerist bacchanal, then the economy is "healthy." Any weakening of the consumer's lemming-like drive to buy, buy, buy means the economy is "weak."

This is of course absolutely backward: consumers buying shiploads of poor-quality crap made overseas means the economy is still on the slippery slope to implosion, as debt is being used to fund consumption while capital formation (savings) remains pathetic.

Since most of the crap (and it is crap--most Americans have either forgotten what actual quality is or they have never experienced it) is made overseas, the "boost" to the economy generated by rampant charge-card consumption flows to only one slice of the the U.S. economy: corporate profits.

U.S.-based global corporations skim most of the profits made when crap is made overseas; how much profit do you think the Chinese and Taiwanese suppliers of the iPad and iPhone components make? If you guessed 1%-2% of their part of the cost, you're right. So if a $300 device costs $100 to actually manufacture in China, the Chinese suppliers make a dollar or two. Apple skims about $100 and the distribution/retail channels skim the other $100.

I have covered this dynamic in depth over the years: for example:

Trade with China: Making Out Like a Bandit (March 30, 2006)
Much of China's manufacturing is owned and managed by foreign corporations. In effect, the companies aren't Chinese at all; only the workers are Chinese.

Trade and "Trade War" with China: Who Benefits? (October 5, 2010)

The key dynamic to understanding trade with China is U.S. corporate profits.

Although nobody dares state the facts lest the cargo cult fetish lose its power to conjure up another mind trick, holiday retail sales are a trivial slice of the U.S. economy, and the fluctuations in those sales year to year are essentially noise.

As I noted in Please, Santa, Let This Be the Last Christmas in America (that's supposed to "save" the U.S. economy) (November 23, 2010):

Holiday retail sales are a mere 3.4% of the U.S. GDP.

Despite the Financial and Mainstream Media's pathological obsession with holiday retail sales numbers as proxies for the "health" of the entire U.S. economy, holiday sales don't really change much:

2007: (pre-recession) Holiday sales: $516 billion
Holiday sales as percentage of annual retail sales: 19.5%

2008: Holiday sales: $495.5 billion
Holiday sales as percentage of annual retail sales: 18.6%

2009: Holiday sales: $504.8 billion
Holiday sales as percentage of annual retail sales: 19.4%

So the start of the 2008-09 recession saw a drop of $21 billion in holiday sales: statistical noise in a $14.7 trillion economy and a modest 4% decline from pre-recession levels. 2009 saw sales rise by about $10 billon (about 2%), so a rise of 2% from 2009 would return holiday sales to pre-recession levels.

Now the propaganda machine is cranking up to announce that a 2% increase in holiday retail sales means the U.S. economy is off and running. Santa, please, please, please order your reindeer to stomp the life out of the idiotic fantasy that Americans buying a few billion dollars more needless junk from China is any sort of evidence that the U.S. economy is "growing at a healthy clip."

The entire retail sector is 7.9% of the GDP compared to a 21.4% share for the FIRE tranch (finance, insurance and real estate) of the economy.

Does anyone seriously believe that 3.4% of the economy can possibly leverage up the entire GDP with a razor-thin increase of $10 billion in holiday sales?

Santa, you have my deep gratitude if you could jam the propaganda machine so that this is the last Christmas in America where trivial retail sales are hyped as the bellwether for the $14.7 trillion U.S. economy.

The cargo-cult fetish of focusing on Black Friday sales is worse than meaningless--it is profoundly misleading. What the economy needs is not more mindless debt-based consumption (the "aggregate demand" that the cargo cult sees as a "folk cure" for everything that's wrong with the economy) but the exact opposite: paying down debt, reducing the share of the national income skimmed by a parastic banking sector, a boycott of low-quality crap (i.e. 90% of what's bought on Black Friday) and an evolution beyond a model of "growth" that's dependent on ever-rising debt and consumption of low-quality, often needless junk made overseas to benefit Corporate America's bulging bottom line.

In summary: these are the retail sales you're looking for; the economy is "healthy," move along. Nice mind trick, and all you need is ceaseless propaganda, a credulous audience and a stock market seeking some excuse for a short-covering rally as the global economy implodes.

Of related interest:

The Last Christmas in America (December 23, 2010)

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HD's picture

"Black Friday Is Utterly Meaningless"

My wife doesn't think so...  I'm gonna need Germany to bail me out too.

fonestar's picture

or buy something made out of steel made before the plastic crappola of the 1980's and give it as a gift.  I find that if you place an object like this in the hands of sheeple it reawakens a long since dormant recess of the sheep's mind.

end da fed's picture

or buy the yellow shiny stuff today... i hear it's on sale

nope-1004's picture

Just don't buy the junk out of China.

There is a reason why Chinese made goods are cheaper:  They're 100% JUNK.

In my line of work we spend a ton of time sourcing half decent shit to avoid downtime from breakage by using the crap coming from China.  Doesn't matter if it's commercial items, toys, games..... it's all junk made for landfills.


AldousHuxley's picture

Top one percent movie


filmmaker Jamie Johnson, a 27-year-old heir to the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical fortune explors the political, moral and emotional rationale that enables a tiny percentage of Americans - the one percent - to control nearly half the wealth of the entire United States. The film Includes interviews with Nicole Buffett, Bill Gates Sr., Adnan Khashoggi, Milton Friedman, Robert Reich, Ralph Nader and other luminaries.


Born Rich


Another documentary about being born into wealth with interviews with wealthy heirs. Made by Johnson & Johnson heir Jamie Johnson.

mayhem_korner's picture

Nicole Buffett, Bill Gates Sr., Adnan Khashoggi, Milton Friedman, Robert Reich, Ralph Nader and other luminaries.


LuminariesLittle too much tryptophan there, AH?

The most perplexing thing about the statist mindset is that the oppressed (victims) worship the so-called elites who perpetrate the ideology that oppresses them (TPTB).  Like the great luminary Michael Moore masquerading with the OWS crowd.

It's no wonder it's pointless debating this element.  It's completely circular and self-defeating in its rationale.

AldousHuxley's picture

sorry copy and paste. forget lumineries ....just interviews.

No one can lead a revolution, but people must wake up. Too bad, walmart selling some Chinese junk in small town that was used to be made in that same small town USA can attract people to wake up at 5am and stand in line just to save few bucks than the rednecks truely understanding why they are so desparate and asking more responsibility from those in power.


Just because michael moore shits everyday doesn't mean you have to hold shit in. It is ok to shit....on elites....for now.




Bananamerican's picture

"most Americans have either forgotten what actual quality is or they have never experienced it"

these amnesiacs (or youthful sinophiles) even pop up here on ZH...

along with our current culture and politics, amerika's trade deficit with china remains a testament to the craptastic adaptability of human beings to settle for bullshit.

geekgrrl's picture

Thanks! That was an awesome film. I liked watching all those great shots of squirmy rich people caught on film trying to justify their insatiable greed. Friedman definitely stole the show though. I really can't believe anyone ever listened to that guy.

ElvisDog's picture

I went to Corky Carroll's Surf School in Costa Rica in 2004 and met one of the Johnson & Johnson heirs. I forget his name but he was probably 10 or 11 at that time. He was actually a nice kid but was clearly kind of lonely. We sat by the pool one afternoon and talked about movies.

AldousHuxley's picture

While Americans are mindlessly buying Chinese junk with government debt money, Chinese are creating partnerships in Africa opening up new markets for their manufactured goods. Western colonialist must do better than just exploit Africa for raw materials. US must do better than install dictactors to steal oil.

LouisDega's picture

I just bought a Slinky. Still made in the good ol USA invented by Richard T. James, a naval engineer at an investment of $500. Over 250 million slinkys sold as of today. Only in the USA

AldousHuxley's picture

good for you.


however, multinational retail outlets like Walmart only carry chinese made PLASTIC shit they got for 5 cents wholesale selling it for $5.


Toys are one of China's largest exports.


It is institutional level problem. G20 says we are going to fuck blue collar workers up the ass and that's what they got for last 30 years. They kids grew up and went to college trying to avoid this and then got fucked too in the ass with worthless college degrees and white collar jobs outsourced and H1B'ed.

Bananamerican's picture

around our house, China is known as the land of broken toys and American boys' hearts.

Even my 6 year old has figured out that China=crap.

They make things that "look" like actual products but disintegrate upon use.

Savvy's picture

But those blue collar workers were unionized, can't have people with a right to a living wage. That's ...socialism!

StychoKiller's picture

There's a reason that brain surgeons make a crapton of FRNs -- check your premises.

Also, perhaps your Big Brother is partly to blame:


johnu78's picture

In the following video I share my thoughts on the Stupidity of Black Friday:



prains's picture

bring on the wafer thin mint

Hugh_Jorgan's picture

Assuming it truly IS local. Not to mention, buying the same cheap overseas merch from a local outlet is better than from a big chain, but it doesn't change the fundamental problem in the American psyche. The fruit of 4 more years with BHO might though...

trav7777's picture

fuck XMas.

fuck standing in lines with herds of lemmings to buy consumer merchandise

nope-1004's picture

I agree 100%.  The day of the Lord has been turned into a shopping spree all clamoring for Chinese JUNK.  Utterly shallow.


TheAkashicRecord's picture

I have always pondered how some religions treat the role of man in the context of nature and how that can underlie political and economic institutions and philosophies.

For example, is man a part of nature or is he above nature?  Is the the external world there for stewardship for our domination? 

AldousHuxley's picture

Nobody got rich by spending money on consumer goods.


You may feel rich, but consumer goods have no ROI and depreciate the moment you walk out of the store.... That's why rich people always buy rare things that keep up with inflation. only people you fool with "stuff" are just dumbasses and gold diggers.


But government who gets revenue from sales taxes and multinational businesses want you to spend your $10 on junk that goes for $1 in China.



mayhem_korner's picture



The hypocrisy of the environmentalist is that he puts himself (man) at the center (and vehemently denies it).  That is, the "environment," the "external world," and "nature" are all defined as one's surroundings, thus placing oneself as the point of reference. It's man's natural instinct to do that.

Christianity recognizes that we are not at the center, and asks that we relinquish that view and submit to a higher authority.  The Creator is greater than the Creation.

Revisit your theological premise by testing out where man and nature originate.

geekgrrl's picture

I don't think you have even the slightest understanding of how most environmentalists view the world. To many environmentalists I know, nature herself is the higher authority, not some fictional father figure, and certainly not humanity. There are a wide range of views, obviously, just like there is within religions, but I subscribe to the view of ecocentric holism, or deep ecology. In such a view, nature itself is at the center, not people. That is to say, god is immanent in nature, not some transcendental apparition in a secret undisclosed region of space referred to as heaven.

If you're going to make a strawman argument, it's really helpful not to make ridiculous claims about people you've obviously made little attempt to understand. How a person views themselves vis-a-vis the environment is not instinctual. This is so obvious to anyone who doesn't hold status quo views, but very difficult to see for folks who rationalize their particular opinions by invoking claims that it's "man's natural instinct. But it's not. It's learned, and it can be unlearned.

If one is looking for hypocrisy, it is inconceivable to come even remotely close to the staggering levels of hypocrisy practiced by Christians over the last 2000 years. I'm too lazy to make a detailed list of offenses, but I'll just point out that the dominion of the Earth granted to humanity in Genesis is the root source of our ejection from Eden. It wasn't that we ate the fruit of knowledge, it was that we started playing god. Manifest Destiny is alive and well in the world these days, and we are about to find the limits to our epistemological fallacies that are part and parcel of mainstream views about nature.

mayhem_korner's picture




...(and vehemently denies it).

geekgrrl's picture

Can you elaborate? I am genuinely interested in your perspective, but I'm not sure what you're trying to say.

Taint Boil's picture



Two dollar waffle makers  ..... Perfect example of the idiot Walmart Americans .... about sums it up. Yeah, fuck Xmas

Animal Cracker's picture

Cheap waffle makers being fought over by people who probably eat every meal at a fast food joint.




To anyone who's "fighting for our freedom"...this is what we're doing with it.  

ElvisDog's picture

Exactly. Making waffles takes effort. I guarentee you the fat-asses in that video eat frozen waffles that they just pop into the toasters. I can't think of a more horrifying-annoying-fascinating job than working at a Walmart on Black Friday. Just make sure you stand clear of the doors.

Animal Cracker's picture

A gave you a +1 even though you're just jealous of my $2 waffle maker.  Get in the Holiday spirit, bub...pepper spray someone go git sum!

Savvy's picture

Fuck xmas indeed. I make my xmas gifts, last year it was emergency kits for vehicles. Okay, I still had to buy the contents (mylar blanket, hand crank flashlight, first aid kit, energy bars, matches, lighter, etc) but was cheap overall and done in July.

smiler03's picture

+1  I bet the kids are delighted. ARSON KIT!!

Andy_Jackson_Jihad's picture

"Black Friday Is Utterly Meaningless"

My wife doesn't think so...  I'm gonna need Germany to bail me out too."


And the first post is the thread winner!

krispkritter's picture

Quote of the day:  ‎"It's a good move to try to get shoppers to spend sooner, before they run out of money," says Burt Flickinger, III, president of retail consultancy Strategic Resource Group.

I'd swear this is Yogi Berra talking...

Black Friday's picture

I'd like to think I'm not utterly useless, partially perhaps...:p

SheepDog-One's picture

I loaded up on pepper spray too, gun shows are great for that. I can buy 5 of those big Alaska bear spray cans for about $30.

Bansters-in-my- feces's picture


Pepper Spray  has an EXPIRY date on them.

I would pay CLOSE  attention to it ,if depending on it.

The Axe's picture

i didn't know that you could pepper-spray people....tasring would be good this sounds like fun..wish I went !!!!

Manthong's picture

the market sucks..

No matter how good your calls are or how well you play it close, they still find a way to screw you.

After the reset, they can have it back.

Stoploss's picture

Anybody seeing what just hapened? A massive dump just occured A/H

GeneMarchbanks's picture

To be expected we've been making lower lows... not 'massive' though... 1160 holds .... ... for now.

HD's picture

I believe that's normal after thanksgiving...

Snakeeyes's picture

Agreed. Europe is melting down. Big push for Germany and France (and US) to bailout EVERYONE!!!!!! Then we are dead.

Europe's "Sick Sevens" - Sovereign 10 Year Debt Yields Above 7% (And Spain. Belgium Teetering on the Brink)

jcaz's picture

But...... Joe Biden said go out and buy stuff.......