Consumer spendingLast week, New York Times columnist David Leonhardt presented a dire view of the economy: "It's a fizzling of the great consumer bubble that was decades in the making."

Leonhardt's views are hardly outlandish, given that consumer sentiment fell in July to its lowest level in two years. Bloomberg News reported that "Americans haven't felt this bad in almost three decades," referring to the Misery Index, which reflects the sum of unemployment and inflation.

Sure, consumers aren't spending as robustly as they once were. But when you look at the numbers behind what individuals and businesses are buying, it becomes clear that U.S. consumers aren't down for the count just yet.

Retail Sales Didn't Flatline After All

In his column, Leonhardt wrote that June retail sales in June were weaker than expected. While that month's figures were hardly robust, they were, in fact, better than the 0.1% decrease expected by analysts surveyed by Reuters. The U.S. Department of Commerce showed a 0.1% increase in June retail sales.

Leonhardt also points out that "sales of ovens and stoves are on pace to be at their lowest level since 1992." Indeed, the Census Bureau showed a 12.9% decline in shipments of gas cooking appliance units, and data from the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) backs these findings as well.

Although Leonhardt doesn't explain why he chose ovens as an example, they're probably a decent proxy for new home sales, since builders usually include them in their models.

Though that trend is definitely not good, it's important to remember that consumers are waiting longer to replace big-ticket item such as appliances and cars. Big appliances aren't at the top of consumers' shopping lists: Between January and June this year, there were around 33 million major appliances shipped, little changed from a year earlier.

Wall Street, though, is bullish on Whirlpool (WHR), giving it an average price target of $99, ahead of the $75.15 where it currently trades. And in other areas of spending, consumer resilience is shining through, too.

What We're Not Cutting: iPads, Harleys, AC

While it's true that unemployment is high and the real estate market is a disaster, it's hard to argue that consumers are miserable if they're still buying iPad 2s, which start at $599, or Harley motorcycles, many of which sell for more than $10,000. Sales of the iconic motorcycles rose 7.5% in the U.S., and 5.6% worldwide in the second quarter.

And how worried can businesses be if they're splurging on new mainframes? Hardware, software, and services revenue all surged by double digits in the second quarter. It's hardly a surprise that Apple (AAPL), Harley-Davidson (HOG), and IBM (IBM) all reported better-than-expected quarterly results.

People are also spending money on air conditioners. United Technologies (UTX) reported last week that its Carrier business had an "exceptional first half of the year," which helped it report better-than-expected quarterly results. The company's shares are up nearly 13% so far this year.

Increased spending also helped boost United Technologies' other businesses. The Hartford-based company reported that all six of its business units, which include Sikorsky helicopters and Otis elevators, reported organic growth for the first time since 2008.

So, What's the Verdict -- Is Spending Sizzling or Fizzling?

Even though they may feel confident, U.S. consumers clearly don't feeling as good as they used to back in the go-go days of the 1990s. Weak home prices and continued high unemployment still stress us out.

Despite my quibbles with his methodology, Leonhardt is right when he points out that the U.S. needs to move away from an economy that's dependent on the consumer to one that's "more of an investment and production economy, with rising exports, expanding factories and more good-paying service jobs."

Unfortunately, that's much easier said than done.

So, tell us if the consumer is mighty or meek. Have you made any big-ticket purchases yourself?

Motley Fool contributor Jonathan Berr owns no shares of the securities listed. The Motley Fool owns shares of International Business Machines and Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple, and creating a bull call spread position in Apple.

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Randi Weitzman

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August 06 2011 at 8:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

yes, shop for "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand.

July 26 2011 at 11:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

We are more buying anything except gold and silver and ammo! The govt is borrowing more than 40 cents out of every dollar it spends. That means that out of five years budgets........the govt has to borrow every penny it spends in the fourth and fifth year. Folks, inflation will take off like a rocket ship and the US govt will be broke......then what????? This current president or whatever you want to call him is destroying our country at the speed of light!

July 26 2011 at 10:06 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

WE will purchase only what is absolutely neccessary, no new car, our 86 pu runs just fine, no cable TV, we have a large collection of vcr tapes, and dvd's to keep us entertained for a long time, no new cell phone, my 8 yr old nokia works just fine. eat out, no, no, no. Have you seen Gordon Ramsey, clean out restruant freezers, and refrigerators. New clothes, There are always yard sales, salvation army, good will stores. They even have used appliances, furniture, and alot of other items that beat the cost of many stores. Fresh produce can be grown in your own back yard, and it is fun to grow your own food. Grocers hate it when they can't sell you rotten produce. I am so thankful that my mom and dad taught me how to be self sufficient.

July 26 2011 at 4:26 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

This is a complex problem. I have the feeling that many of us will go down the tubes as a result. We voted for Bush junior because we thought that his Pop would guide him...that didn't happen a all. We got pissed off at Bush and voted him out and went for the spin doctor approach of Obama. The Republicans voted for the bailouts and massive spending. Now they are crying to cut spending because we are broke. We tried to bail out the entire planet and create jobs for everyone (Pakistan) while they were hiding Osama. We let the illegals come in every day and set up radar but we don't catch any of them. We have lost countless millions of jobs overseas and it was not due to pressure from Americans after lower prices. It was for more money for the shareholders and huge bonuses for themselves. Everyone believed that they needed a mansion with granite toilets...and by gum they were going to get it. It was massive greed and it is still there. Get a generator, store food, get extra propane, batteries, water, and booze!!!

July 26 2011 at 11:35 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to SPQR's comment

who is the "we" that belived the spinmeisters and voted obama? this is not a complex problem if you think around all four corners. you redeem yourself in your last sentance.

July 26 2011 at 11:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

To writer of this articel--your check from Obama is in the mail--

July 26 2011 at 7:39 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

I hope all of America stops buying from the Chinese stores... I'll start buying when I see"Made In the USA" In the meantime, garage sales does it for me.

July 25 2011 at 4:06 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to labflirt's comment

I have never been to a chinese store, but I hear the airfare is expensive. Are you talking about buying Chinese products in American stores? Always have a hard time with the Buy American thing. Primarily because it is difficult to sort out. Is the Ford f350 truck produced in Mexico an American product? Is the BMW X5 produced in Spartanburg, SC a foreign car? Either would be constructed with a majority of either American parts for the Ford or German parts for the X5. But, where are the jobs? The other part of this struggle is would I want to pay $1,000 for an entirely made in the usa washer, or pay $500 for an identical one made in Singapore? Everyone wants to blame the big companies for moving jobs out of the US, and they sure deserve it, but in many ways, the US consumer should share the blame. Indirectly, the pressure on retailers by the consumer for lower prices sent a lot of jobs out of the country.

July 25 2011 at 4:47 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

why didn't you publish my comment about how disrespectful Boehner is being to the office of President? too close to the truth?

July 25 2011 at 3:49 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Sandra's comment

Rudeness has become sport in this country. As to Boehner's disrespecting the president there is a reason for that.
For what it's worth he or those of his ilk aren't ever going to give you the real reason for their attitudes toward him.
They would rather die than admit it.

July 26 2011 at 2:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If you don't have an 8 month emergency fund-that's liquid cash in a savings account- you shouldn't be buying your self or the kids those expensive toys. I have never in my 68 years have seen such a braindead/greed people. I keep hearing people say 'Ineed,I need'. No one needs 3-4 hundred channels or game boxes, or a phone that takes pictures or texts Business people maybe a phone that does it all, kids no! When our technology die what then. Our parents didn't know from moment to moment where we were. They didn't start to worry until we were late for dinner. My world was no more dangerous then your's. If anything your neighborhood is a lot safer. The kids don't need that phone. They need to get out and play and trust me, raindrops/snow won't kill the little darlings.

July 25 2011 at 3:48 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to nocstreet's comment

What if the little darlings are out adventuring one day and wonder into unfamiliar territory and one of them gets injured somehow and can't make the return trip,just maybe that cell phone might come in handy,what do you think?

July 25 2011 at 3:55 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to janswizz's comment

I lived.

July 25 2011 at 4:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

you lived.

July 25 2011 at 4:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

Boehner, go back to Ohio, you have no respect for the office of the President, or your own, with comments like "put up or shut up." Our forefathers are probably turning over in their graves! You are a disgrace to this country and don't think the world isn't watching your crybaby, irresponsible, despicable behavior! You are a disgrace to this country. You are nothing like what I (and many others) expected from you. If you were in a civil job, you would have been fired for insubordination! You are not working for the good of this country at all and most of are intelligent enough to see it, whether you think so or not.

July 25 2011 at 3:44 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply