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Weekly E-Letter 6-23-17  — A Healthy US Consumer?

I just can’t help it.

No matter how much good economic news I find, there’s always some pundit blurring the good news with their own version of the consumer’s demise. And I just have to comment – because in my opinion, it’s just NOT SO!

All of us have views that are colored by our own preconceptions. And, yes it’s true that some retail giants are slashing revenue and earnings outlooks thus creating worries about retail in general and malls in particular. Auto sales are slowing, auto loan delinquencies are rising and the number of student loans that are in default seem to make the headlines at least once a week.

But… just as there are many negative forecasts, the news of the consumer’s death is greatly exaggerated. On average, consumers are in good shape.

The best news is that the labor market continues to heal. At 4.4% the unemployment rate is the lowest since 2007. Meanwhile wages and salaries are up 5.5% in the past year, besting the inflation rate by a long shot.

The other side of that coin – is that consumer debt burdens are down. The FED tracks the ‘financial obligations ratio’, which measures the share of after-tax income consumers need to meet their monthly debt service plus regular (non-debt) payments such as renting a home, leasing a car, property taxes, etc. At 15.4% of after-tax income, these payments are near the lowest since the early 1980’s!

– Read more …