Consumer Sentiment Falls to Post Presidential-Election Low; DiMartino Booth: “Rising Credit Card Use Shows Consumers Are Strapped”

via CNBC:

  • “The loss was due to a host of issues including the partial government shutdown, the impact of tariffs, instabilities in financial markets, the global slowdown, and the lack of clarity about monetary policies,” said Richard Curtin, chief economist for the Surveys of Consumers.
  • “Aside from the direct economic impact from these various issues on the economy, the indirect effect meant that half of all consumers believed that these events would have a negative impact on Trump’s ability to focus on economic growth,” Curtin says.

Consumer sentiment dropped to its lowest level since before the U.S. presidential election in 2016 amid growing concerns over U.S. economic growth, according to data released Friday.

The University of Michigan consumer sentiment index fell to 90.7 this month — its lowest since October 2016 — from 98.3 in December, preliminary data showed. Economists polled by Refinitiv expected the index to fall to 96.4.

“The loss was due to a host of issues including the partial government shutdown, the impact of tariffs, instabilities in financial markets, the global slowdown, and the lack of clarity about monetary policies,” said Richard Curtin, chief economist for the Surveys of Consumers. “Aside from the direct economic impact from these various issues on the economy, the indirect effect meant that half of all consumers believed that these events would have a negative impact on Trump’s ability to focus on economic growth.”

Curtin also said the survey showed the year-ahead economic outlook was the worst since mid-2014.

Source: University of Michigan

 

DiMartino Booth: “Rising Credit Card Use Shows Consumers Are Strapped”

Even though evidence is mounting that the U.S. economy may be soon heading into a recession, there are plenty of analysts who say that the surge in credit card borrowing is a sign of strong confidence among households. That’s hardly the case. In fact, households’ confidence in the future growth of their incomes has been cooling since late last summer, which means borrowers will only reach for what’s in their wallet to compensate for what their paychecks will not cover.

Many working adults have no recollection of credit card borrowing not being a mainstay among their financing options. But then, few would be able to identify a Diners Club card, which was a popular brand during the 1980s “yuppie” era when Americans first began to embrace credit card spending in earnest. These days, consumers are not keen to lean on credit cards, partly due to a cultural and financial shift in the industry.

The financial crisis arguably altered households’ views on charging beyond their means. It didn’t hurt that the availability of subprime credit all but disappeared for a few years or that the interest rate on credit cards remained in double-digit territory despite the Federal Reserve’s zero interest rate policy. That said, the idea of frugality re-entered many households’ thinking in the wake of the severe hardship the foreclosure crisis brought to bear on millions of working Americans. Debit cards became the predominant form of plastic used at the checkout.

And yet, consumer credit likely rounded out 2019 at a new $4 trillion milestone as runaway higher educationand car-price inflation coupled with ridiculously looser lending standards pushed households to take on record levels of student loan and auto debt. At roughly $1 trillion, credit cards are but a co-star in a star-studded, full-length feature film. A long history of credit card borrowing suggests that we would have multiples of today’s $1.04 billion in outstanding balances had the growth rate of spending on plastic maintained the headier double-digit paces clocked in the 1980s and 1990s.

Credit Card Borrowing Decouples from Income Expectations in Current Cycle

Several factors worked to slow the rate of credit card usage, few of which were virtuous. The past several recoveries were characterized as “jobless” due to the prolonged period required to recapture prior cycle highs in the employment-to-population ratio and anemic wage growth that persisted in such environments. And while credit card spending certainly held up during the years the housing bubble was inflating, households didn’t have to lean near as hard on plastic when their homes had infamously become de facto ATM machines.

The question is where credit card borrowing goes from here in view of the deteriorating economic outlook. August marked the high in income expectations as measured by Conference Board data. If history is precedent, there will be a rush to tap available credit as households become increasingly aware that the economy is headed into recession.

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