ECONOMIC UPDATE….I’m not trying to compete for the doom-and-gloom world record or anything — honest — but the economic outlook just continues to look really gloomy:

The UBS-International Council of Shopping Centers preliminary sales tally of 43 retailers rose 0.5 percent in January, well below the original 1.5 percent forecast….Michael P. Niemira, chief economist, said January’s performance was the weakest ever, according to records that go back to 1970. It is based on same-store sales, or sales at stores open at least a year.

….Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, reported a 0.5 percent gain in same-store sales….Wal-Mart noted in its news release that gift card redemptions were below expectations and that customers appear to be holding gift cards longer and ”using them more often for food and consumables rather than discretionary purchases.”

As usual, you should adjust for inflation: an increase of 0.5% is a decline in real terms of more than 3%. That’s very gloomy indeed — though not really surprising. After all, the job market is weakening, incomes aren’t rising, the home equity ATM has been shut down, and credit cards are maxed out. Where’s the money supposed to come from? Senate Republicans?