After Record Debt-Fuelled Splurge, US Credit Card Usage Post Sharp Slowdown

After a massive surge in consumer credit in the last three months of 2017, when October thru December saw a massive increase in revolving and non-revolving credit, amounting to a total $73 billion, the Fed reported that 2018 started off with a whimper, with a modest $701 million increase in credit card debt, coupled with a $13.2 billion increase in non-revolving, or auto and student loan, credit in the first month of the year.

Revolving credit was the clear outlier, with the monthly increase of $0.7BN far below December's $6.1BN and last January's $934 million, and the smallest increase since February 2015 (excluding the December 2015 series revision). Still, the increase pushed the latest revolving credit total to $1.0298 trillion, a new all time high.

Meanwhile, non-revolving credit, which with the exception of one definition change month, has not gone down since 2011, also hit a new all time high of $2.825 trillion, following the latest monthly increase of $13.2 billion, fractionally higher than last month's downward revised $13.1 billion.

What about its components? Well, with everything else going for record highs, we doubt it will be a surprise to anyone that both student debt and auto loans hit a new all time high in the quarter ending December 2017, with $1.491 trillion for the former, and $1.12 trillion for the latter (the next monthly update will take place in two months, when the Q1 data is released).

The sharp slowdown in consumer credit growth may be the latest red flag for the US economy, which as a reminder ended 2017 with a record surge in credit-funded spending; and now that credit card companies demand payment, US consumers - whose personal saving rate is already near record lows - appear to have retrenched, and have substantially slowed down their credit card usage, which for an economy in which 70% of GDP is consumer spending suggests more negative surprises for Q1 GDP.