The federal government's $125 billion injection of equity capital into nation's 9 largest banks, along with several other concerted moves by the Treasury, Fed and FDIC are the first step in stabilizing the credit markets. With these efforts now moving forward, all attention is now being focused on the U.S. economy's prospects-and the evidence thus far isn't too comforting. Retail sales data released today indicated consumer spending fell for the third consecutive month. For the third quarter as a whole, consumers peeled back their spending to the tune of 1.2 percent, representing the first quarter-to-quarter drop since 2002. In inflation-adjusted terms, the sales picture was even uglier and is clearly in the dreaded R-word territory. Despite the retrenchment in energy prices, consumers arguably face one of the toughest holiday sales periods in decades. A deteriorating labor market, the likelihood of lingering problems in the credit market and falling household wealth levels have combined to bring down what had been a resilient consumer.


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