ECONOMY

Rumblings of recession

THESSALONIKI – You mean to tell me that you won’t even step inside? remarked a frustrated businessman, operating a booth at the 66th annual Thessaloniki International Trade Fair (TIF), when a couple, standing by his booth and gazing at his products, started walking away when he approached them. This scene was repeated several times in a similar fashion throughout the nine-day TIF, with visitors perusing the products from a distance and keeping salespeople and businessmen at arms-length. So, what’s wrong with this picture? Is this just characteristic of consumers in Thessaloniki? Think again. In today’s global market economy the events taking place at international trade fairs are practically the mirror image of greater trends in the world market. These people have joined a global movement of consumers who find themselves struggling daily to make a living while being bombarded by an entire world’s products and services which push their way toward their wallets. This could be anything from an accelerated computer market, which sells one model while its upgraded version has already reached the production line, to cellular phones, cars and other products; consumers have only recently begun wondering: Do I need this? Can I do without it? Unfortunately for the market, consumers are rapidly realizing that their lives can still go on without rushing to the store and buying the latest model of any product, especially when the one they’ve had for several years is still up and running. A study released Thursday by the University of Michigan, conducted the day before Tuesday’s unprecedented terrorist attacks in the United States that saw three hijacked commercial airlines slam into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, shows that consumer confidence is at an eight-year low in the United States, while employment fell to a four-year low. And this marked decline in consumer spending has also sent strong tremors through the newly established world market economy which is in constant need of growing sales in order to feed an ever-expanding market and keep unemployment at low levels. The impact of this lower demand has already impacted on several sectors, including car manufacturers such as Ford which recently cut 4,000 jobs, as well as the dot.com and cellular phone markets which have also been shaken by broad job cuts. Aftershocks from these jolts are expected to cut into other sectors as well in the coming months. After years of a consumer frenzy that gave birth to thousands of new companies in several sectors, in order to cover the needs of a market that was constantly hungry for more products and services, consumers are now changing the rules of the game. The key word has now become mergers, and corporations, one after the other, are waking up into this new market reality. The most recent case is that of Hewlett Packard which operates a booth in the American Pavilion at the TIF and recently signed a merger with Compaq, forming a new and highly competitive company in the now-shrinking computer market. In this unstable world market environment, international trade fairs will also have to become more competitive if they are to continue to attract the major market players which are the leaders in formulating trends in their sectors. This also is the case for the Thessaloniki International Trade Fair (TIF), which this year saw a lower turnout in the number of exhibitors and visitors – especially those with a genuine interest in trade, alliances and business cooperation. According to some critics, if the TIF wants to keep its exhibitors coming back each year, it will have to expand the space it offers to exhibitors and adopt the tactics followed by leading global exhibition halls – including raising entrance fees to ensure that visitors with a genuine interest in trade are the main attendees. With the 66th annual TIF nearing its closing day – tomorrow – businessmen around the world are already preparing for the next event: The 16th annual International Autumn Trade Fair taking place from January 13-17 in Dubai, as well as others in Europe and elsewhere. Credited as an emerging leading trade show, the fair in Dubai is also expected to feel the jolts from global economic trends, as the 66th TIF did here in Thessaloniki.