Heading Into The Holiday Season, The US Consumer Is Worse Off Than Last Year

Tyler Durden's picture

As so often happens, one of the biggest surprises of the recent period of broad economic weakness, has been the American consumer, who always somehow manages to come through (or so the official econometric authorities make us believe) and cross a chasm of economic stagnation with shopping bags full of stuff. But while the "consumer" (or his department of truth proxy) has sourced the US economic dynamo in the past several months as Europe imploded, and thus served as a supporting brace for the latest incarnation of the US decoupling thesis (where not just Europe, but also the economies of Japan and China have been deteriorating rapidly), the reality is that unless European problems are promptly fixed (which they won't be) the last ditch global economic support pillar, the US consumer, is about to roll over, because as Bank of America explains, "heading into the holiday shopping season; most [consumer statistics] measures are no better than they were last year. In fact, many are worse." And in what may be news to JP Morgan, "With home prices continuing to decline, a wealth driven consumption binge looks unlikely." In other words, while for now the bottom had managed not to fall off the global economy as the tapped out US consumer spent their last dollar to avoid a worldwide re-depression, if European problems are not rapidly resolved, and by that we mean well before the Thanksgiving sales begin, not even "record" corporate profits (which incidentally are rolling over and are purely at the expense of consumption capacity), will do much to prevent the market from finally catching up to reality.

Bank of America explains further:

One of the surprises in the recent data has been the resilience of the US consumer. Auto sales continue to trend higher as Japan-related supply-chain disruptions fade. The back-to-school shopping season was strong, with a 5.5% year-over-year gain in chain-store sales in September. A strong back-to-school season implies a strong holiday season. Unfortunately, we do not believe the recent strength in consumption is sustainable and remain cautious on consumers as we head into the holiday season. We expect real consumption to run just 2.0% annualized in Q4, barely keeping up with the growth in the overall economy.


Households face very tight budgets. Since hitting a nearby peak of 5.3% in June, the savings rate has declined 0.8ppt to 4.5%, the lowest level since December 2009. Over this period, real income growth has been weak; indeed, real disposable income is lower today than it was heading into 2011. And, while consumer price inflation receded recently, there has been limited follow through to real incomes since wage growth has also declined. The bottom-line is that there is a limit to how much households will be able to draw down their savings to finance spending. Table 1 summarizes several consumer statistics heading into the holiday shopping season; most measures are no better than they were last year. In fact, many are worse.


Meanwhile, consumers are still recovering from the wealth shock of 2008-09. On the one hand, consumers have made progress in repairing their balance sheet. The debt-to-income ratio has dropped to mid-2000 levels. However, net worth has barely recovered from its lows. In fact, nearly all the improvement in wealth has been driven by price appreciation in the stock market. The value of real estate assets has actually declined since the recession has ended. A home is the principal asset on the balance sheet of the average consumer. With home prices continuing to decline, a wealth driven consumption binge looks unlikely.


Policy dysfunction in Washington is adding to the laundry-list of concerns. Last year’s tax compromise included a one-year payroll tax cut and extension of jobless benefits for 2011. However, similar to last year’s tax debate, the debate over the fate of these policies will likely undercut consumer sentiment and economic activity. The risk of higher taxes next year might be having a negative impact on consumption now. Together, the expiration of the payroll tax cut and the failure to extend jobless benefits will hit personal income by roughly $130bn next year.

And if there is one thing that is absolutely certain this year, in addition to death and taxes, is that if there is something that congress and the senate can disagree on, it is everything. Kiss any fiscal stimulus extensions goodbye into 2012.

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LeonardoFibonacci's picture

Why that is impossible as Jamie Dimon, Lloyd Blankfein and all the rest of those bastards are raking in big bucks and will buy new toys.  They are all a bunch of SOB's!  Enough said.  Middle class America will wake up and these guys will feel very unsafe!

Quixotic_Not's picture

OWS: The Perestroika Deception Develops a Face

In recent weeks, every American has watched with morbid curiosity as swarms of hate-filled, sputtering communist loons and Hippie-wannabees have taken to the streets, shutting down cities and leaving a path of destruction wherever they go.  Although many Americans disagree with the stated agenda of these radicals, most think them harmless, dismissing their acts as pathetic attempts to resurrect the failed social movements of the sixties.

But this group of determined radicals is not to be laughed at.  Lisa Fithian, the primary OWS organizer, is an unrepentant communist and proponent of government and economic destabilization as a means of achieving totalitarian centralization along communist lines.  Writing for a socialist rag, Fithian once stated, “I have no issue with property destruction…We’re in a society where property is idolized, so a lot of people don’t get it yet that it doesn’t really matter.”

While this should shock Americans (and would, if the facts were being reported) this is nothing new.  This is just the latest tactic in a long-term strategy that has been quietly moving forward for decades.  I am speaking of a high-level strategy designed to thwart American resistance to communist infiltration known as “Perestroika.”


APC's picture

Is this a joke?  Hate filled, sputtering communist loons?  Man, someone just doesn't get it, or enjoys 'getting' it, from behind.

AldousHuxley's picture

Fed = central planning = communism = corruption


US consumer is nothing without easy credit. Americans finding out net worth is more important than any made in china stuff you have.



whstlblwr's picture

It's right, watch out for the communist, and don't go to protest because they will infiltrate your mind. Freak.

Tell it to New Hampshire.

"What I Learned At Occupy New Hampshire
by Dan Kervick 10/16/2011 - 12:23 am

Well, not much really.
There were about 350 people there. That was good.
But here's the bad news:
One of the apparent leaders and key organizers is a Ron Paul guy. He's a Republican state rep. He was there with his Ron Paul sign and a megaphone. He is also, I think, the moderator of the discussion forum on the Occupy New Hampshire web site.
This was something close to my worst nightmare. I have absolutely no interest in being part of a movement that is some sort of junior version of the Tea Party, and it depresses me that what I had hoped was the awakening of a progressive movement is so incoherent and unsure of itself as to include these radical right crackpots under their tent. If the Occupy movement is not able to develop even enough coherence to kick these guys to the curb, it's not something I'm going to be able to participate in. I've had enough of laissez faire - and at bottom, that's what these guys are all about.

mfoste1's picture

What social conditions are most favorable for a dictatorship? high unemployment, rising inflation, social unrest, political disillusionment? hmmmmm this sounds exactly like the US right now.....i was listening to a jewish holocaust survivor being interviewed today. She said that obamas rise and hitlers rise are following the exact same path. She was very frightened, and even more so by the fact that people in america are completely blind to this. She spoke of how obama speaks to rally the people with false hopes and promises just as hitler did, and how obama promised change and how he tells people to seize their future(whatever the fuck that means).I cant help but agree with her.  I mean what better time to take control when people are much poorer and looking for help and hope anywhere. Obama is trying to do this now. He has entered war without congressional approval, he now can kill any american citizen who he deems a threat. I suspect the next step will be to extend the length of presidential term for as long as one is "reelected" the can remain in the seat. I am not joking.  I  mean  people, WAKE THE FUCK UP!!!!! . America must not allow this man to be reelected, he is evil. The future truly is at stake.........

UP Forester's picture

Gee, after reading Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich a year or two ago, the rise part was eerily similar.

Only thing is, it didn't come about in years, but decades.


Also, Mussolini on Fascism:




Wannabee's picture

Tell the repubs to quit putting these moronic clowns on the big stage and the big O will be a one timer. RP excluded.

merchantratereview's picture

Written as though I am supposed to feel sorry for these creeps.

Shocker's picture

No Way the Consumer is kicking A, Its definitely pretty sad when most of an economy is based off people buying stuff.

The consumer is hurting and this holiday season is not going to be much better, unless stuff changes



Hedge Fund of One's picture

It's sad that an economy is based on people buying stuff only if they reduce/quit their buying. It is efficient to produce only what people want to buy. It is a problem if the economy is built on making stuff that people don't buy. It is reality that they increase/decrease their buying in cycles. We are in a down/sad cycle now. At some point, that will reach equilibrium and increase again.

bob_dabolina's picture

Holidays aren't about money, cool cars, fancy electronic gadgetry, huge meals (with all trimmings), brand new clothes, and other such shallow and vain niceties. 

It's about being thankful for having great politicians, a flawless monetary system, and an increasingly unified electorate. We were given the best gift of all, The Federal Reserve Bank, around Christmas time 1913 and we should be thankful for all the price stability it has generated since.

I am Jobe's picture

Top Ramen Bitchezzzz.

AldousHuxley's picture

you know  you have inflation when SPAM is $3.50.

Some higher quality asian ramen go for $5 these days.


Ramen for middle class, poor just get sugar water.

Caviar Emptor's picture

One large tomato at Whole Foods: $2. One pint ice cream: $9.98

jd1123's picture

Wow, you got ripped off. If that's what you're paying for food, I have a great deal on some subprime CDOs for you.

UP Forester's picture

Nah.  The poor get water flavored with Rumsfeld's genetically modified E. coli shit:  Aspartame.

jd1123's picture

"Hey, if you want me to take a dump in a box and mark it guaranteed, I will. I got spare time."

TheMerryPrankster's picture

sugar water plus yeast = booze

The distance from the bottom to the middle is only a small step, but the distance between the middle and the top is a widening chasm.

In an environment predicated on growth, even merely standing still will hasten collapse. The economy has been dead in the water for 3 years, how long can it totter? It is unlikely to fall forward as there are no engines of growth, so the only direction is backwards.

Disentegration seems to be the future, undoing unholy alliances, discarding trade agreements, rending the social fabric.

Invest in an illusion or invest in survival, that is the only choice gong forward.

Snakeeyes's picture

Like wages falling at about a 5% rate after inflation?


Add Bernanke/Greenspan to the list of Grinches for holiday spending.

Caviar Emptor's picture

Real Median INcome fell 9.8% from December, 2007 to now. Remarkably, he decline accelerated during the "recovery". (Hint: it's biflation erosion)


Snakeeyes's picture

Like wages falling at about a 5% rate after inflation?


Add Bernanke/Greenspan to the list of Grinches for holiday spending.

X.inf.capt's picture


now the bankers cant spend any money, either...

no bonuses for them, so it must be getting bad...


Unprepared's picture

One you go BAC, you never come black*


*black as in black Friday

LeonardoFibonacci's picture

To top all off another black guy wants to be president with his 999 or 666 bullshit.  Man the forefathers must be rolling in their graves.  Welcome to African economics, Zimbabwe economics!



AldousHuxley's picture

You know shit's real bad when WASPS don't want the top job.


Mormon, blacks, woman as candidates.....


Elect Cain if you want the entire nation to get a diarrhea from his 9.99 shitty pizza with fake sausages.

TheMerryPrankster's picture

Proxies are cheaper than actually running for office, especially with its attendant publicity and the spotlight on personal lives and activities.

Why spend a billion dollars to run for president, when you can buy his influence for a few hundred thousand dollars?

How to split the black vote? Run a black man against a black man. Brilliant manipulation of a rigged system.

I think I'll write in Bill Cosby, if we're going to have a black president, I'd rather have one who has some insight and has lived in the world long enough to know what life is truly like.

Hohum's picture

The slave-owning forefathers rolled over in their graves with the passage of the 13th Amendment.

AldousHuxley's picture

13th amendment was passed in 1865, but most people are still slaves......debt/wage slaves.


Forefathers approved 13th once their decendents became northern state factory owning industrialists who needed cheap labor.



SoNH80's picture

Merry Winter Solstice Consumption Binge!  HO, HO, HO (cue "A Christmas Story" Dept. Store Santa tapping Ralphie on the forehead, pushing him down the long slide).  Or, if you prefer, Happy Judeo-Historical Winter Solstice Consumption Binge Proxy!  Mazel tov!

Zgangsta's picture

Americans won't (can't) stop buying things for Christmas.  They'll just ring up a higer credit card/layaway debt than usual.

-Michelle-'s picture

You can't ring up higher credit card debt if your credit card has been maxed out paying the electric bill.  And layaway isn't debt; it's prepayment.

Americans will stop buying things for Christmas.  I predict news stories about the overwhelming demand for the Salvation Army Angel Tree program.

buzzsaw99's picture

i hate the way those fudge packers talk about bad shit as if it is good shit:


We expect real consumption to run just 2.0% annualized in Q4, barely keeping up with the growth in the overall economy...


actually means: prices for everything have blown sky high but nominal economic activity has barely budged.


The bottom-line is that there is a limit to how much households will be able to draw down their savings to finance spending...


actually means: people are tapped frikken out!


On the one hand, consumers have made progress in repairing their balance sheet...


Actually means: Deadbeats are defaulting en masse but foreclosures are eliminating the free rent stimulus.

Sokhmate's picture

Don't misunderestimate the american consumer.

TheMerryPrankster's picture

The story will be told with an 'unexpectedly higher use of gift cards' - the x variable that can be manipulated to represent whatever number they need.

Gift cards are a gift to the government and the corporations, they are vast tool of manipulation. Say your sales are down 10%, you create sufficient gift card entries to represent an amount of 15% of you sales, now you are up 5% and the cards will never be cashed in or used, so your lie will never impact your bottom line.

Gift cards.

LookingWithAmazement's picture

You will see that holiday shopping season will return "better than expected" sales. After all, the US economy is not in recession, performing better than expected and a climbing dollar makes imports cheaper. So. You know the rest of my story. same as ever. Merry holiday season.

earleflorida's picture

news flash: illegal immigrants returning home, "and cartman don't like it",... ~ 10% -15% consumer gone south of the border, with remaining legals & barely legal quite resourceful and creative, especially when you don't have anything except empty dreams - walmart/ target/ and big retail will suffer


Got Coal?

AldousHuxley's picture

illegal immigrants don't shop at walmart. They got some Mexican supermaketo that caters to illegals all in Spanish.

Univision will also suffer.

ceilidh_trail's picture

Anecdotal, but, I see lots of illegals in the Walmarts and Meijers in greater cincinnati and hendersonville. nc areas.

earleflorida's picture

* ever so slightly off topic, but with some good meat still on the bone for a delicious soup-ish dinner for this evening fireside-chat, discussing where we've been, and concerning how we got here in the first place?

bush #41 & clinton's push hard for 'nafta' with hillary's 'ark' walton connection-connections and bowties the accord - unions are busted and all off-shoring begins a mass exodus -

"all system full steam ahead - go - , says the red-white-blue arrow"

walmart give ultimatum to u.s. vendors,... cut your prices or we go south - some vendors renege and go out of business, while most others capitulate and bow to their new master, moving methodically off shore or south of the border -                   

clinton /hillary & bush #43 pass 'cafta', and 'gatt' opening up the southsea passage to china via their membership into the wto -

obama -  gives away 's.korea,panama, and columbia' 'fta' with nothing in it for the u.s. - we have no say-so on the panama canal which should draw the public's curiosity, but -

summary: walmart has been the genesis and sole enabler that has laid america to waste,... china has been the great beneficiary of the treason perpetuated upon the american proletariat by its politicians and "u.s./mnc's" who owe no-allegiance to democracy other than their wallets - be it in yuan, dollars, or euro's!   


dust to dust's picture

 Give a gift that keeps on giving. A SILVER EAGLE. Gave that exchange at a PARTY among friends about five years ago. NOW its a snowball effect among friends. A beautiful piece of SILVER and it increased in value. Get the word out NOW.