Investors were forced to juggle conflicting news stories today, as reports of more violence in Greece, plus concerns that restrictions on European spending could affect recovery in the U.S., clash with the release of unexpectedly healthy retail sales figures.
Earlier optimism about the ability of a massive financial bailout for Greece to keep the debt crisis from spreading is being pushed aside by concerns that it still won’t be sufficient. And now there are growing fears about a negative ripple effect that any European pullback in spending could have on the still fragile U.S. recovery.
In direct contrast to all this comes word that retail sales in April rose more than expected, pushed largely by home improvement and building figures, together with an increase in auto sales. Part of this is no doubt connected to the rise in the sale of existing homes, as people jumped to take advantage of the homebuyer tax credit, which ended in April. Worn out foreclosure properties counted for many of those sales, and appear to have sent buyers out looking for appliances and other ways to fix up their house. In fact, just released figures show consumer confidence up slightly in May, as employers created more jobs, though the index did not improve quite as much as was expected.
In any event, there is no way to get rid of the larger story haunting investors, the worry that the situation in Europe will get worse, not better, and could eventually spread to the U.S. itself. Reports of violence in Greece continued to grow, with bombs going off near a court and a prison. And various political and financial leaders began quietly expressing doubt that the massive infusion of money into Greece, $1 trillion, can really prevent a similar crisis from happening in countries like Portugal.