Tax refunds may send false signal on consumer spending

Early last year when the Bush administration pushed through tax refunds, consumer spending ticked up as the money made its way into the retail markets. But the spending spree was short-lived and retail sales dropped as the recession took hold.

The same principles, and problems, may be facing the Obama administration's new refund program. Consumer spending may begin to look better, but the activity could be gone in a month. And shoppers may desert stores the way that they did during the last holiday season, leaving weak retailers even weaker.