Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Mixed Messages

Citizens get such mixed messages. Do not get in debt. But spend, spend spend. Consumers need to spend to get us out of the recession. But you need to save for a rainy day. And you need to have enough to get by, pay your full monthly mortgage payment and a little more. These mixed messages thrust on us can be very confusing. So we get some good news that consumers are now saving - but this is also bad news since it means consumers are not spending, huh. So says this article from Brookings Institute titled Economic Fears Lead to a Surge in Household Saving. Let's take a look -

For many years, economists and other experts have bemoaned American consumers’ unwillingness to save. Now Americans are saving once again, and observers worry that too much saving translates directly into too little consumer demand. Was consumer saving too low in the past and, if so, why? Is it now too high?

The personal saving rate has soared in recent months. As a percentage of disposable income, the 6.9% rate recorded in May was the highest rate in over 15 years. According to the national income and product accounts, personal saving in 2007, the last year before the start of the recession, was $57 billion. In the January-March 2009 calendar quarter, the annual rate of personal saving was $464 billion, an eight-fold increase. In May 2009, the rate of personal saving rose still further, reaching an annual rate of $769 billion, nearly fourteen times the annual saving rate in 2007.

It may seem puzzling that personal saving would soar at a time of surging unemployment and falling wages and profits. U.S. consumers are worried, however, that their private incomes could fall still further in the future. Even Americans who hold secure jobs have experienced a dizzying drop in wealth over the past 18 months. Since reaching a peak in 2007, household net worth fell almost $14 trillion, a drop of more than one-fifth. The huge loss in wealth has induced many consumers, including those with secure incomes, to cut back on buying in order to bring their consumption back into line with their long-term ability to spend.


In the second half of the 1990s and much of the current decade the ratio of U.S. household wealth to household income was rising in spite of the fact that households were saving very little of their incomes. If capital gains on your home and in your stock market portfolio are doing so much of the heavy lifting, why should you make any consumption sacrifice to add to your savings? Asset price deflation turned capital gains into huge capital losses over the past 18 months. Households now need to save in order to rebuild their wealth holdings.

A second contributor to low household saving in the past two decades was a series of innovations in consumer and mortgage lending. The wider dissemination of credit cards made it easier for households to borrow without any collateral. Innovations in mortgage finance made it easier for people with poor credit records to buy a home and for people with good credit histories to borrow on their home equity. These innovations relaxed borrowing constraints that once limited households’ ability to obtain loans when they were temporarily short of funds. Households saw less reason to accumulate or maintain a stash of liquid savings for emergencies. But the financial crisis has cut off many households’ access to credit. If they want to protect themselves against future financial emergencies, households must accumulate precautionary savings. In a future emergency they may not be able to rely on credit cards or home loans to tide them over.

If your house value was increasing by double digits every year why save. Many of us felt rich just owning a house. While that wealth that we felt was just an illusion the debts we owed were real. And now, to many of us, they are painful. But the big problem is this push to live within our means but spend every penny we have. But since on a personal level saving is good - on a national level this level of saving is not so good. Our advice is to worry about the personal levels only...

Bookmark and Share

No comments: