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The Wall Street Journal reports that "from Walmart Inc. to Nordstrom Inc., retailers have a glut of inventory and are discounting items to clear out space for holiday goods. Many have already lowered profit expectations for the year and are working to cut costs as consumers are pulling back spending in categories such as apparel and home goods ahead of the key year-end shopping season."

However … the picture is not black-and-white.

"Consumer spending in July increased at a slower pace than in the previous month, due in part to falling gas prices, according to government data," the Journal writes.  "Yet signs are emerging that people are feeling better about the economy overall, as the University of Michigan’s survey of consumer sentiment showed improvement for the second month in a row.

"The tumultuous environment is unlike what retailers have encountered in previous economic slumps and inflationary periods, said David Bassuk, a co-leader of the retail practice at the consulting firm AlixPartners. While the 2008 financial crisis was a clear downturn, he said, 'this one has pockets of real strength' … Rising prices for food, fuel and a host of other goods and services have damped consumer moods. Shoppers are buying, but paying more for fewer goods. They are also giving priority to food and other need-based purchases over patio furniture and gadgets."