US Consumers At Crossroads As Spread Between Visions Of Present And Future At Record Divergence

Tyler Durden's picture

Yesterday's most recent data from the Conference Board's Confidence Index recapitulates very well the Economic Inquisition purgatory that living in America has become: pain and suffering now, coupled with the promise of salvation and financial bliss at some point in the future. Of course, on a long enough timeline we are all dead, so it is only fitting that the administration, whose slogan had something to do with tangible change, is gradually encroaching on the Catholic Church's turf in an all out war for the souls of America's taxpayers as tangible becomes increasingly ephemeral and, well, intangible (save for unemployment and the wads of electronic cash deposited in Goldman Sachs' employees bank accounts - both of those are all too real). While the CBCC number came in at about the expected reading of 52.9 (from 50.6 in November), all of the "improvement" in confidence came from rosy future expectations, which rose to a two year high of 75.6 (from 70.3 previously). As for the present: current conditions plunged to another record low of 18.8. Never before has the differential between present pain and future hope been so wide.

The impact of this divergence politically is all too obvious. The voting population, which has been extremely patient, and keeps hoping that the future will finally bring something better and in line with oh so many promises, may very soon change their mood and realize that the present is here to stay, regardless of what the Fed manipulated capital markets demonstrate. When that happens watch for some interesting election fireworks on this side of the Potomac river.

Reading between the lines of the CBCC indicates that Obama and CNBC's grand plan to get consumers to spend, spend, spend again has fizzled. Autobuying intentions dropped to 3.8 from 4.5 in November, the lowest read in over a year, when the SAAR was 10.5 million. The double dip in the auto sales will soon be upon us. Furthermore, buying intentions of major household appliances held at a weak 23.7: Cash for Bidets can't come fast enough. Most troubling, however, homebuying intentions have plunged to a near-thirty year low: at 1.9, the percentage of Americans planning on buying a house is the lowest since 1982.

And just in case you thought that shellshocked US citizens will look to get the hell out of Dodge, at least temporarily, to take advantage of that strong, strong dollar and travel abroad, think again. The percentage of Americans planning a vacation in the next six months fell to 35.7, the lowest since April. The David Rosenberg-penned "frugal consumer" is here to stay, which can only mean that both the Fed and the US Government will become buyers of first, last and everything inbetween resort, as the traditional component of US GDP (sorry David Bianco, you are unabashedly wrong in your "consumer is irrelevant" propaganda). Maybe it is time to dust off all those Russian Politics 101 manuals, in our search of how to defeat Soviet Style Communist fiscal and monetary policy, which have so thoroughly penetrated the United States of America itself.

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Anonymous's picture

Comrade Obama sure has done a bang-up job getting our economy back on track... I give him a good, solid B+.

deadhead's picture

Thanks for the in depth on this report TD.  I read the internals yesterday via b'berg and, once again, the headlines certainly don't tell the story. I'm glad that you got this info out to the readership.

Expecting a further financial sector "overweight" reiteration from David Bianco's team in 5...4...3...

oh, what the hell, how about a David Bianco upgrade of the SPX to 1400 in 2010?


Anonymous's picture

why not?
taxpayers have financial's overweight backside via the unlimited largesse of Fannie & Freddie...
There's still meat on the cancerous bone....there's still time.....till we default.
go for it y'allz

Racer's picture

The out of hours (reported yesterday after US close) consumer confidence figures were not so confident either....

USD ABC Consumer Confidence (DEC 27) fell to -44 from -42

deadhead's picture

Thanks Racer.....the MSM doesn't report the ABC numbers.

Actually, ZH typically reports ABC numbers and it would make sense that they would have been incorporated in this article.  Get off your ass Tyler, you're slacking off again.

Daedal's picture

The percentage of Americans planning a vacation in the next six months fell to 35.7, the lowest since April.

Meanwhile, Priceline making all-time highs and car rental companies going through the roof.

Can someone please riddle me how DTG will be paying off its $400 million debt payment in June? More equity issues, perhaps? I like how their execs get paid in 100% Cash compensation. What about the $600 mil due in 2011 and $500 mil due in 2012? Hello?! Who is buying this at $27/share?!? I'm amazed.

I am reminded of a time when I thought Crox was overvalued at $50, and it went up an additional 50% before crashing to $2.

Segestan's picture

Hopee-one-canobe says use the force luke.

Anonymous's picture

LMAO! Hopee-one-canobe Still rolling!

curbyourrisk's picture

1.9% plan to buy a new home.....lowest since 1982.....  What were mortgage rates in 1982?  What are they now????  Yeah...exactly...  We are so fucked!

nonclaim's picture

When there's despair there's good opportunity. I know someone who just got a *fixed* 5.0% 30 year mortgage with an option to make early payments, no penalty. That's a great deal: if inflation kicks in the house will cost peanuts, if not the guy plans to pay in full in 15 years. Having a save, reasonably high salary helps...

Daedal's picture

Yes, but salaries have a funny property to them. They tend to be "sticky" and are often adjusted after cost of living goes up. It is a relatively good rate, but we can get inflated oil prices as well as increase in the price of many imports without without any adjusted increases in salaries. In fact, we may get increased unemployment if costs of business go up. Theoretically speaking, inflation is good for the borrower of a fixed rate and bad for the lender, but in practice we may indeed have inflation and your friend might not necessarily reap the benefits.

Anonymous's picture

... Yeah-- it is hard (as a worker) to renegotiate a salary as inflation picks up.

I am one of the folks that benefited from the new homeowner tax credit. We bought in the Dallas area in Oct. We put 5% down and got a 4.75% fixed 30yr. The $8k covered all our new appliances. Dallas didn't experience the bubble near as much as others-- so prices have been much more stable. But with uncertain inflation/deflation expectations, our hedge was that we bought 1/2 less house than we could theoretically afford.


Anonymous's picture

"if inflation kicks in the house will cost peanuts,"

i'm assuming the bank will take peanuts by then in barter?
or is he counting on the bank not being around anymore?

"a save, reasonably high salary"

is he a porn producer or banker?

Keep It Simple Stupid's picture

Exactly! Interest rates were 18-20% back in '82, now they are 5% or less and still no one (other than hedge funds) wants to borrow. It's totally understandable that no one wanted to borrow at 20% for 30 years but why don't people want to borrow at 5%? Simple, the general public is either stuffed to the gills with debt already or afraid to take on new debt because they aren't confident enough in their future economic prospects to believe they can repay it.  It doesn't matter how "cheap" new debt is, it's still more debt and most people don't want it.

This is exactly why I don't buy the argument that the fed can just print money and inflate assets to infinity. They can print all the money they want but someone still has to be willing to borrow it. People seem to always forget about that side of the equation. The fed is powerless if no one wants their fiat money.

It's not just housing where this is an issue either. My wife and I own a business. At the end of 2008 we made the decision to become 100% debt free in 2009. I can happily report that I wrote the final checks last night and we now own everything (cars, equipment, residence, etc.) and have zero debt. My personal feeling is that 2010 & 2011 are going to be the ugliest years US businesses have ever seen and the best way to prepare for that scenario was to become debt free.

My point is that I know I'm not alone in my views. I have a lot of friends that also own businesses and they're doing the same thing to various degrees. It doesn't matter what you offer me at this point, if it involves me taking on debt, I'm not interested. If my view becomes the majority view, which I feel it will if it hasn't already, then the logical path in the future for all asset prices is down not up.

So where does it end? How far we have to fall before we hit bottom is the big question. The even bigger question is what will the US look like once deflation has run it's course. We all know that what our government is doing is lunacy. Any "recovery" when we do hit bottom is going to be crushed by the weight of the federal debt we (ironically) accumulated creating the very bubble that we are now adding even more debt to in order to try and reproduce it. (Blank checkbook for Fannie & Freddie, yeah, that's going to end well...) What will happen when deflation ends? Hyper-inflation? US default? Revolution? Who knows?

While I haven't gone so far as to dig a bunker in the backyard and load up on guns and food it's starting to look more and more like a "rational" idea every day.

Oh yeah, happy new year!

Rainman's picture

You are absolutely correct about the New Normal being anchored with debt avoidance.

Every one of my acquaintances who have gone under in the past year were overly leveraged. The stiff wind of credit contraction blew them right off the fence. 

geminiRX's picture

Fantastic summary! It's a shame that we are the 1% of the population that have knowledge of this. In Canada, people are even more oblivious here about real estate. People (especially realtors) think that real estate will just keep going up for ever. I think people are in for some big surprises. Just a matter of when.....which has been the frustrating issue for a lot of readers on zerohedge.

Anonymous's picture

We are so BEYOND fucked, we can't even catch the bus back to fucked!!

DoChenRollingBearing's picture

2010 looks like it is going to be a rough year.  I'm going to need a lot to drink...

Anonymous's picture

The question is when are the american sheep going to rise up and do something about it?

Anonymous's picture

Hope makes a good breakfast but a thin dinner.

crosey's picture

The current administration can score a victory if we (the people) are allowed to print our own money too.

Reality....their strategy is on a crash-and-burn glide slope, and none of the pilots have the will to make the hard decisions that will save the plane.

Bright spot?.....mainstreet is finally willing to see the bullshit they've been blissfully ignoring for years.  Will this lead to the "right" change that needs to happen?  Or just more sensational bandaids?

I hold out hope that there is a solid leader steadily moving from the wings to center stage.  If I'm wrong, then we're in for decades of malaise.

Anonymous's picture

she's perky crosey....and has a better rack than the moose she likes to kill....

Anonymous's picture

Somewhere, Leo is thinking this is bullish.

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

This headline "improvement" is a wonderful example of Cognitive Dissonance combined with wishful thinking brought on by external repetitive conditioning.

After nine to twelve months of media saturation showing leaders and talking heads exclaiming good times are just around the corner, a concept carefully supported by an engineered stock market climb, people are being conditioned to believe things will get better at some point. After all, the stock market is up, right? Perception is reality.

However, they are face to face with the Cognitive Dissonance of higher food and other essential product prices, massive un/underemployment, real or imagined fears of losing their own job, their house is now worth less than they owe, bills up the yin yang, 0.1% received on their savings account, etc etc etc. 

Since the average Joe has ceded nearly all control of his or her life decades ago (most stimuli is now artificially induced, mostly through the TV) they once again will suspend disbelief and go with the flow.

When I ask people why they feel things are getting better, I get blank stares and open mouths. Careful (and gentle) questioning reveals that this so called independently arrived at conclusion was actually externally planted through repetitive TV conditioning. "I don't know, it just will" is a common answer, usually spit out in frustration because they genuinely don't know why they think this way.

The masters of the universe are brilliant in their use of psychological controls to manage and move the herd.

Daedal's picture

wishful thinking brought on by external repetitive conditioning...Perception is reality...conclusion was actually externally planted through repetitive TV conditioning...masters of the universe are brilliant in their use of psychological controls to manage and move the herd.

The appearance of control is the biggest source of propaganda that drives the cogs of the insane contraption. I ask you, would people believe the same drivel if the politicians and experts wore jeans and sweat pants instead of suits? Would the weight of their conclusions have the perceived substance if those people did not discuss issues while sitting in leather chairs behind polished red wood tables?

And in the end, the only content conveyed to the people are blanket statements. My perennial favorite is, "We must do the right thing." Brilliant! Why didn't I think of that?!

deadhead's picture

CD....magnificently stated. standing applause!

Danz Gambit's picture

Even Bernays would be astonished by the fruits of his labor.

mule65's picture

"Improvement" is less confusing than the tiresome "better than expected."  The propaganda must be simple:  You can't say "Dial nine-eleven for emergency" because there's no eleven on the phone.

Ned Zeppelin's picture

Agree. Also, many if not most reports of these "improvements" are always reported in percentages, never in raw numbers.  Up 10% sounds great, until you find out the what used to be 10, is now 1, and that's up 10%, to a fantastic 1.1.  Never, ever, ever do you hear comparisons of the raw numbers.  Must be a chapter in "Controlling The Herd Through Propaganda For Dummies."

I called the guys at the Philadelphia Fed to offer to be a data source for housing, and inquired how they generate their "manufacturing index" and such. The answer seemed to be that this is done by collecting unverified opinions by telephone.  Just saying, these "indexes" are not necessarily data, unless you mean data of "opinions held." Otherwise, they mean nothing.  Show me sales tax receipts and employment tax records year over year, in gross numbers, and categorized by as many criteria as you can.

Miyagi_san's picture

I didn't make 2009 returns so I cut my insurance bills in half for 2010... BTW In an act of war (civil or otherwise) declared or not, Your HO insurance is null and void and liability has pages of exclusions. MORE koolaid please

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

Not just war but riot, insurrection, nuclear bombs, military or civilian coups and so on. So called "acts of God" include acts by man.

sethstorm's picture

What's a small difference in scale between friends?

For what nuclear bombs are, you might as well consider anything within a 30-60 mile radius a write-off.


WaterWings's picture

This will sound stupid after 0.01 seconds but wouldn't it be kool if you could collect on HO insurance because of foreclosure! We're going to Bermuda with our Winnebago! I wonder if in-habitability because of nuclear fallout counts?

I read that a lot of bankster contracts were technically null and void once the level 6 pandemic was declared, force majeure clause. Trump tried 'recession' as an act of God:

sethstorm's picture

I wonder if in-habitability because of nuclear fallout counts?

I'd like to see that argued out in court just for the Wind/Water damage type of battle.  Would it be the nuclear fallout that made it inhabitable, or did a non-covered event precede that such as war cause the damage?

If you thought the insurance court battles from Katrina were interesting, this one would have me bringing out the popcorn.

geminiRX's picture

I wouldn't worry about ground detonations. It is the high altitude detonations that are the more worrisome. A 400km atmospheric detonation would kill every integrated circuit in North America and throw us all back to the pre-industrial era. 

fiasco's picture

the goebbels children escaped to the US and today every major US media outlet contains descendents of the children

it's a goebbels empire if i can say a pun

this story is big and i intend to keep on top of it

but i would like to propose, like an idiot, the conclusion before the facts

that goebbels propaganda techniques are in full force today in america

Anonymous's picture

Who the what now?

WaterWings's picture

Fiasco is like an Italian e. e. cummings that makes a lot of interesting points - and he doesn't even speak Italian, haha! Ma va bene amico. Capisco le cose che dice. Questi sono maggiormente la verita.

Anonymous's picture

You talk about the Inquisition like it was a bad thing...

Anonymous's picture

Kids it's not the end of the world, for us gray beards this is just yet another crisis for us to muddle through.

Yea the economy is really, really, really, bad but experience has shown that we can and will recover with out armed insurrection.

The world survived the pandemic of 1918-19 that killed millions around the world, the destruction of Europe and Asia during WWII, the oil shocks, the devaluation of the Dollar in the 80's, if you were long you were very very wrong and so many more extremes in finance, politics and health.

Just because you are living through a period of destabilization does not mean your experience is somehow unique or different. The world will still be here, the markets will somehow still function long after you and I have left this mortal coil.

steveo's picture

But the party is over, and the piper needs to be paid. 


this is a multi hundred year event we are in, it is not ordinary.

Psquared's picture

I don't find this kind of information very helpful. The underlying question is not whether people believe things are getting better but whether they really are getting better.

If a true scientific poll were taken I wonder what percentage of people would say their personal situation is better today than 12 months ago?

Here is how I would ask it:

Are you currently employed?

Were you employed 12 months ago?

Were you employed 24 months ago?

Is your income lower, higher or the same as 12 months ago? 24 months ago?

Are you more or less confident of the next 12 months than you were 12 months ago? 24 months ago?

You could also break it out by confidence in the economy and government.

My answers: Yes. Yes. Lower. Lower. Less. Less.

Anonymous's picture

Umm.. did you read the article? It states both expectations AND current conditions. To answer your question, according to the survey, things are not getting better and still worse than 12 months ago.

impending doom's picture

Don't foget our frenemy inflation. I actually get paid a good bit more than I did 24 months ago, but somehow have less cash at the end of the day. Funny how that works out.

Anonymous's picture

would those of you claiming salary increases please post your occupations?
it really helps the armchair demographers among us tremendously...

impending doom's picture

Sure... Would you like my name and address as well, spook?

Anonymous's picture

You're on to something. People without jobs don't spend. Well, in time past they could borrow and spend, but now both jobs and credit are gone. Until the job situation changes, nothing else will budge.

My answers: Yes, no, no. Higher, higher, higher. Less, less.

Argos's picture

Come on, really, who can believe a poll?  Most Americans don't know it takes a year for the Earth to revolve around the sun.  Most Americans believe in Heaven, but NOT Hell.  I could go on, but my blood pressure is going up!

Anonymous's picture

I thought this Alan Grayson might be different, but after pleas like this I don't know?

In politics, the best defense is a good offense.

We know that the Republicans -- backed by their health insurance industry allies -- are going to make outlandish claims against my record of working to pass health care reform. Only the Republicans would have the gall to claim that healing the sick is bad for America, but they will lie and smear and confuse people to gain power in 2010. It's what Republicans do.

And if they gain power, they will do their best to make sure that our health is at the mercy of the large corporate bureaucracies that fund their campaigns.

I need you to show them that we will not back down.

Join my $25,000 grassroots fundraising drive before midnight on New Year's Eve, and help keep me pushing for the change Americans need!

When I stood up in Congress and said what most people were thinking about Republican obstructionism, I was criticized by angry Republicans at town halls. A Republican commentator on TV -- on the payroll of the insurance industry -- confronted me just as angrily. These people want me out of office.

What they don't realize is what you and I knew all along: We had to change the debate.

At its core, health care reform is not about policy; it's about saving lives. Every day of delay means American lives lost that didn't have to be, and I can't accept that. We can't accept that. I spoke the moral truth of our work in Washington, and that's why I'm glad we're close to enacting legislation that, while not perfect, will certainly save American lives.

But the fight over health care isn't finished, and there are more fights to come. That's why I need you, right now, to help keep me in the game, fighting for the truth and a better America.

Join my $25,000 grassroots fundraising drive before midnight on New Year's Eve, and help keep me pushing for the change Americans need!

Already we've raised over $13,000 toward our goal, and your contribution now will be a big help as we push to meet our goal before midnight on Thursday.

Thank you for your continuing support and for standing with me in these important fights.


Alan Grayson
Member of Congress