Consumer Expenditures and Outlook Shifting

Consumer Expenditures and Outlook Shifting

Thursday, June 25 2015

As real wages and personal expenditures bounce back after a long, hard winter one recent measure of sentiment contradicts prior reports by showing consumers are pretty upbeat about the economy.

By: Arthur Zaczkiewicz 

Get ready for a shift in consumer behavior.

As real wages and personal expenditures bounce back after a long, hard winter, one recent measure of sentiment contradicts prior reports by showing consumers are pretty upbeat about the economy. And if Friday’s jobs report meets or exceeds expectations, consumer spending is expected to jump in the coming months.

Despite these bright spots, there is a demographic that is facing severe headwinds in the short- and long-term: millennials. According to a just-released report from the nonprofit group the Young Invincibles, one in five Millennial parents are living in poverty. In a separate report from Merrill Lynch that looks at wealth transference, the bulk of high-net earners will be leaving their money to family members, which bodes well for retailers and luxury firms serving that segment.

First up is news from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis that noted real disposable income declined 0.2 percent in March while real personal consumption spending gained 0.3 percent — a clear sign that the purse strings are loosening, which is good for many retailers who have suffered through a long winter that resulted in softer sales.

The BEA also reported a gain in wages and salaries in March, although the increase was not as robust as February’s numbers. Compared to March of last year, wages and salaries are up 4.4 percent. From a consumer expenditure perspective, this means that stronger earners have the potential to spend more this year than last. From a political perspective, stronger earners may feel less connected to recent rhetoric touting the need for better wages.

In a separate report, the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index increased as expectations about the overall economy showed improvement. The index rose 2.9 points in April to 95.9, which is the highest level since January. This contradicts the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index, which fell 6.2 points in April to 95.2 – the index’s lowest level since December.

IHS Global Insight economist Chris Christopher’s said in a research report that consumer sentiment “reversed course in April and came back to life. The first half of the month witnessed broad-based gains, while the second half was relatively stable. Falling gasoline prices from mid-March to mid-April were a positive for consumer mood, while the poorly received employment report was a negative.”

In March, the U.S. Department of Labor reported 126,000 new jobs added to the country’s payroll, which was well below the 200,000 most economists expected. This Friday, the department will release April’s numbers and analysts said investors are eyeing the numbers for signs of weakness that could impact consumer spending. The median consensus estimate by economists is an increase in April of 228,000 jobs.

Christopher said the Michigan index is at “relatively elevated levels, implying that consumer spending is likely to pick up in the second quarter.” In regard to the contradiction with the Conference Board’s index, the economist said “our econometric research indicates that the University of Michigan Index is more sensitive to gasoline prices, while the Conference Board Index is more sensitive to employment conditions and payroll reports.”

The economist said the “consumer mood” will likely gain momentum and be positive in the next few months. But he cautioned that the employment outlook will have a lot to do with how consumer sentiment trends. And despite the positive outlook, not all consumers are in the same boat. According to a research report from the Young Invincibles, which focuses on youth issues relating to education, employment and health care, Millennials are in a tight spot from an economic perspective.

The authors note there are 20.5 million Millennials who are parents, which represents about 30 percent of the total Millennial generation. Of that segment of Millennial parents, one in five are living in poverty. The authors said given the complexity of today’s world, being a parent is no easy task. “Compounding these challenges is a harsh economic reality,” the report stated. “Regardless of whether they have children, many young adults struggle to launch their careers in today’s economy. Millennials face an unemployment rate that is over 40 percent higher than the national average, declining wages, and the prospect of repressed wages for years to come.”

This generation also has the highest student debt load, according to the report as well as recent data from the Pew Research Center and separate research from Goldman Sachs. “They are the first generation in modern history to have higher poverty rates and lower incomes than their two preceding generations,” the authors of the Millennial parents report said, adding that this generation of parents has to dole out traditionally higher rates of child care in a jobs market that is experiencing a decline in “employment opportunities.”

At the other end of the spectrum, wealthy parents of Millennials and Generation Xers are concerned over the transference of their wealth. The report is based on a survey by Merrill Lynch’s Private Banking and Investment Group, and focused on the “risks and rewards of giving.” Over 200 high-net work parents were polled, and the survey revealed that more than 90 percent planned to give most of their money to their family members – instead of toward philanthropic or other beneficiaries. Specifically, the respondents were “motivated by a desire to positively influence the lives of loved ones,” the report stated, adding that the results also “indicate that many see significant risk in passing on wealth without context, conversation, guidance or accountability.”

On that last note, 46 percent of respondents said they were concerned about “giving too much money, and only about half are confident that the distribution of their assets will have the intended impact.” Moreover, 28 percent of those polled said they were concerned that the inheritance would thwart the recipients to reach full potential and instead “indulge in a perpetual life of leisure.”


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