Today's stock dive - over 700 points - is being linked directly to this month's retail sales number, which fell 1.2% for September. That's twice as much as analysts had expected.
Retail sales are of particular interest to the technology sector, which counts heavily on consumer spending to buy its gadgets and gizmos. That's especially true in the last quarter of the year, when the holiday shoppers come out, waving credit cards and checkbooks at retailers like there was no tomorrow.
Just maybe not this year. According to a brand new Harris Interactive study, 45% of US adults plan to spend less money on gifts this holiday season than last because of the state of the economy, and one in five plan to spend significantly less.
Here are some other key trends from the Harris study:
-- Some 80% will purchase fewer gifts this year . . . by . . .
-- Buying gifts for fewer people (46%)
-- Buying a smaller amount of gifts for the same number of people (43%)
-- Or making some gifts instead of purchasing them (22%)
-- 63% will buy less expensive gifts.
The one silver lining is that consumers are using the Internet to buy goods and services, and many of them -- 55% -- like to buy their technology toys online.
I wonder how many of those will be foregoing eBay to do their holiday shopping this year. eBay came out with its quarterly numbers today and Wall Street didn't like what it saw.
Overall, eBay's stock fell by $2.54 - to $15.33 -- after investors got a gander of the online auction site's revenue numbers. In Q3, EBay earned $492 million, or 38 cents per share. In the year-ago period, eBay reported a loss of $936 million, or 69 cents per share, stemming from charges to its Skype telecommunications unit.
Revenue rose 12 percent to $2.12 billion, slightly below the $2.13 billion analysts had predicted.
While sales at eBay-owned Shopping.com, PayPal, and StubHub.com rose for the quarter, the amount of shoppers actually visiting company web sites was way down - an ominous sign going into 2009. According to eBay's filing statements, the number of new listings jumped 26 percent year over year to 700 million. But the number of active users rose just 3 percent in the quarter to 85.7 million.
eBay is already taking some steps to alleviate the pain coming down the path. It plans to slash 10% of its workforce, and will use some of the cash it's hoarded to pay off acquisition debt. It's downgrading future revenues, from $2.17 billion to $2.02 billion. Analysts had expected $2.43 billion in revenues for the next quarter.
eBay is the canary in the gold mine for tech retailers - if it's down, then so will everyone else - at least that's what Wall Street is saying. And that's not saying much.