Live From NRF: Retail Putting Trust in Obama’s Hands

New York–The Barrack Obama administration is not in the White House for another week, but the retail sector is already putting its trust in the president-elect’s hands.

Panelists at the National Retail Federation’s Annual Convention morning keynote said retailers need a president with Obama’s leadership to help retailers survive the recession. Already, the panelists agreed, the President-elect’s proposed $800 billion economic stimulus package, which Obama has said he’s like to sign on his first day in office, is a step in the right direction.

“It’s not only the dollars and sense involved, it’s the ability to sell it well, to convince people that it’s going to work,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist and cofounder of Moody’s “I did support [Republican candidate John] McCain in the campaign, but frankly, I don’t think there’s a better guy in place right now. He can convince people that if it passes, they will be in a better place a year from now.”

Myron E. “Mike” Ullman III, chairman/CEO of general merchant J.C. Penney, said he agreed with Zandi’s assessment that Obama will help consumers gain trust in elected officials. But he added that his work may be wasted if both parties don’t work together.

“From a consumer point of view, the administration has a very interesting challenge in getting a fiscal stimulus that is big enough, fast enough and sustainable enough to make a difference,” Ullman said. “As a country we seem to do very well at the worst possible times, and hopefully everybody understands this is one of the worst economic times.”

Zandi warned that even with the stimulus plan, “the next six months is going to be very painful, and the six months after that are going to be painful.” 2009 will be a matter of survival, he noted. “2010 will be when merchants can start focusing on what opportunities are out there, but 2011 is when they can finally act on them.”

Is there anything positive about the near future? “If you survive 2009, you’re really going to win,” said Peter J. Solomon, founder/chairman of investment banking advisory firm Peter J. Solomon Co. “The retailers that are going bankrupt this year are going to be liquidated. So if you’re still in business, you’re already going to be in better shape.”

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