The Spending Crunch Is Official: "We Are Confident There Is An Issue With The Consumer"

Think the Walmart "disastrous" sales memo was a one-off event, which net of Walmart's damage should be completely ignored (something the market has been perfectly happy to oblige with)? Then listen to a separate perspective on the US consumer, this time from a very different angle: that of Town Sports International which operates such gyms as New York Sports Club, and specifically its CEO David Gallagher, who in last night's conference call just confirmed what everyone knows: "As we moved into January membership trends were tracking to expectations in the first half of the month, but fell off track and did not meet our expectations in the second half of the month. We believe the driver of this was the rapid decline in consumer sentiment that has been reported and is connected to the reduction in net pay consumers earn given the changes in tax rates that went into effect in January."

It goes on:

Based on how broad-based the slowdown has been quarter-to-date, we are confident there is an issue with the consumer. We were going to do everything in our power to make up for this January member shortfall, we continue to see softness and expect to net less than half the net member gain that was achieved in Q1 of 2012. Unfortunately, we are also seeing the softness in our ancillary revenue.

And on:

While the consumer has recently turned much more cautious again, we were hoping that it will be temporary, and we are confident that the foundation and ability to execute at a very high level that we now have in place will serve us well. We have worked very hard to rebound from the recession and rebuild our membership base from the low we experienced in 2009.

And on:

So we’re seeing the behavior very similar and we’re very confident that it is coming from the consumer. As I mentioned earlier in my script part portion, when we look at our business there are really 3 components that we’re watching closely all the time. The first is execution and how we delivering our product and services. Second is, what the competition looks like how it has changed mark-to-market, year-on-year and then in terms of consumer behavior. We’ve seen consumer sentiment change drastically within the last couple of months. We saw that after the first really payroll period in January, which is about the second week of January, we really start seeing a slowdown in Ancillary, Personal Training and membership sales. And our sort of increase that we’ve seen on the cancellation side is directly related to the members that are non-users. So it really does go to the consumer side of the business.

And on:

We believe that once consumers understand our average member is probably losing somewhere in the area of about $1,500 a year once our members understand the impact they have on their daily living with the rising cost of gas and the lower income from social security or the taxes that they’re seeing now.

But there may be hope:

We estimate close to half of this loss is membership attributable to Hurricane Sandy.

Luckily, in a centrally-planned, command economy, who needs such meaningless fundamental staples as cash flow, consumption or even trade...

Source: CLUB earnings call transcript