Wes Moss: The Economic Snow-down

Remember when we were kids and prayed for snow days? It was all laughter and fun. Even as adults here in the South we secretly looked forward to those oh-so-rare days when life ground to a standstill under a blanket of bright white. Who would have thought we’d ever get sick of snow here in Atlanta? But I think that’s the general consensus after a month of life-disrupting storms.

The uncharacteristically harsh weather has done more than strain the sanity of parents stuck at home with out-of-school kids. The ice and snow have battered economic activity. Some 75,000 airline flights have been cancelled since December. Car sales, retail spending, construction activity and gasoline sales have all been impacted, along with worker productivity. How many days of work have you missed in recent weeks?

After a hiring pick-up in the fall, only 75,000 jobs were added in December and just 113,000 in January. Twenty percent of the work force is hourly. If they can’t get to work for a week or even a day, they don’t get paid and thus have less to spend.

Old Man Winter isn’t the only culprit this season. In California’s balmy Central Valley, a drought of historic proportions threatens to empty America’s breadbasket. There’s a very good chance that you ate something today that was grown in the Central Valley — and that you’ll pay a lot more for that food item in the coming months.

None of this is good news for the economy or our wallets. If there is a silver lining to the winter storm clouds, it’s the pent-up demand created by our inability to go about our business during the rain, sleet and freezing temperatures. Barring some unforeseen circumstance, economic activity should recover and maybe even boom with the warmer weather.

In the meantime, as we remain trapped by the fireplace, it’s probably worth pondering the new unpredictability of our weather and how it might affect us as investors, business owners, retirees and simply as human beings trying to make our way through the seasons.

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