ALEX BRUMMER: Black Friday may be an embarrassing American import but the shoppers are defying the gloom
Thanksgiving is a uniquely US festival and Black Friday, the day after, is so known because it is when families head to the shopping mall and websites, and the bottom line for retailers turns from red to black.
This year Black Friday came hard on the heels of the Budget and a gloomy outlook from the Institute of Fiscal Studies.
Citizens tuning into the media in the last 48 hours and reading of unprecedented lost decades of wage growth might be inclined to slit their wrists.
A welcome boost: Shoppers on London's Oxford Street clutch bags of Black Friday bargains?
Anyone familiar with the real Austerity Britain 1945-51 chronicled by historian David Kynaston, the economic chaos of the 1960s, the great inflation of the 1970s and unemployment in the early Thatcher years of the 1980s might think we have never had it so good.?
After all, Britain's jobless rate at 4.3 per cent is the envy of much of the Continent where the European Central Bank is printing money at an average of €60billion per month in an effort to sustain recovery.?
How uplifting it was to hear James Daunt, boss of bookstores chain Waterstones, extolling the virtues of Black Friday.?
Daunt is a business hero, keeping Waterstones alive in the face of the Amazon challenge in spite of a punishing High Street rents and business rates.
He embraces Black Friday as 'retail theatre' giving his stores a 'very good December day' in November.
Aside from the rewarding feeling which customers get from good value purchases, Black Friday helps them to buy holiday gifts now at 20 per cent or more off rather than pay full price on Christmas Eve only to find prices slashed days later.
This year has been uncomfortable for consumers as higher prices, following the depreciation of the pound, outpaced earnings growth. But there is little reason to think that the squeeze is permanent.
Indeed, the uptick in growth in the third quarter of the year to 0.4 per cent suggests some momentum with households spending again.
Ian McCafferty, a member of the Bank of England's interest rate setting Monetary Policy Committee noted this week a 'pick up in private wages'. The Bank forecasts that average wages will rise by 2.5 per cent to 3.5 per cent next year.?
In the public sector the pay review for NHS workers should result in more generous incomes.
As inflation comes down and earnings climb the squeeze on households ought to ease. Surveys of Black Friday week takings suggest a boost to the high street of between ￡7billion to ￡10billion.?
That should assist retailers by boosting cash flow ahead of Christmas. It also shows that despite the misery laden headlines consumer confidence remains buoyant.?
Hopefully the better spirits will carry through to 2018 when real incomes start to improve.
Among the largest numbers in Philip Hammond's Budget is spending through the National Productivity Investment Fund, with the commitment rising to ￡7billion by 2020-22.?
This may not be the Marshall Plan needed for the post-Brexit era but it does show bean counters at the Treasury are not immune to the need to re-equip the economy. Supporting pure R&D is critical.?
As important, as former BAE and now Babcock chief Mike Turner points out, is taking British innovation out of the laboratories and off the drawing boards to pre-development and manufacturing.
Rolls-Royce would not have the world beating Trent engine were it not for the government helping to fund great engineering.?
Similarly Airbus would not be the big employer it is in the UK were it not for the support which the original wing and avionics designers at BAE secured from Downing Street.
There should be no shame in government co-investing with our greatest companies to bring capital projects to market.
It is understandable that Iain Conn and Centrica bosses have been pre-occupied with the politically high voltage issue of energy tariffs.?
But it is unforgiveable that the group looks to have taken its eye of the ball in the notoriously volatile US energy market. Excuses of warm weather and strong competition are disappointing.
What is unforgivable is a ￡76million before-tax charge against profits overbooked for several years. Heads will have to roll and audit watchdog, the Financial Reporting Council, must take a look.
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