World Economy Affects US Manufacturers, Retailers

Some optimists in Washington, on Wall Street, and elsewhere predicted that the Asian economic crisis wouldn't reach the United States. But in late August, the financial flu infecting that part of the world, and the ongoing monetary instability in Russia, finally affected North America. As of Friday, August 28th, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was hovering just above 8000, down from a record high of 9337.97 on July 17th. The market decline has affected the whole economy---traditional industries as well as hot-ticket ventures like Internet stocks.

The consumer electronics industry has followed the same general pattern as the overall market. Among large-volume consumer electronics retailers, Best Buy Inc. suffered the most, closing Friday down 10% from the previous day. Its final price on August 29 was $43.125, down from a 52-week high of 54.81. Competitor Circuit City suffered a similar fate, closing down almost 10% from the previous day at 37.1, well off from a 52-week high of 54.5.

Tweeter, Inc., which operates Bryn Mawr Audio and Video in the mid-Atlantic states and HiFi Buys in the southeast, also closed down from the previous day at 13.5, substantially below its 52-week high of 21.12. California-based Good Guys, Inc. closed up slightly at 7.325, a price less than half of its 52-week high of 15.75. Denver's Ultimate Electronics closed up from the previous day at $3.25/share, far off its 52-week high of 5.50.

Loudspeaker manufacturer Boston Acoustics closed at 22.325, off more than 6% from the previous day, and almost 30% below its 52-week peak of 31.12. North America's largest consumer electronics conglomerate, Harman International Industries, Inc., also finished down at $36/share, a serious drop from its 52-week peak of 57.06.

Realnetworks, Inc., whose RealAudio and RealVideo player may become the Internet's entertainment-transmission standards, closed at 23.625, up from the previous day, but still at less than half its 52-week high of 48.25, which occurred just a few weeks previously.

The US stock market suffers a traditional slump in late August and early September. Analysts typically believe that a 10% drop represents a "correction," a phenomenon partly attributed to profit-taking among investors. More precipitous drops are viewed with alarm among the investing community. At the moment, the crisis in Russia gives no indication of abating, nor does the recession in Japan. The current downward fluctuation in the US market is proof that the world economy is one large, deeply interconnected network---anything that affects one part eventually affects the rest of it. The decline may continue for a long while to come.