Shocked and appalled—that was the reaction to the shopping-season debacle in the US. It was triggered by MasterCard’s ugly report. But now there’s a new term to describe “consumer spending,” “consumer debt,” and ultimately “trade deficits” when they occur as a function of such uplifting concepts as “holiday season” and “Christmas” whose magic is boiled down to just one issue: how much did everyone spend?
Friday’s plunge in consumer sentiment was hastily ascribed to the Fiscal Cliff. Like Sandy, it’s recruited to explain everything that goes wrong. But over the last few days, one monkey wrench after another has been thrown into the hope machinery, including the collapse of small-business hiring plans to the record low set during the catastrophic post-Lehman days.
Especially of CEOs who parachute into the executive office. Wall Street’s knee-jerk reaction can be phenomenal. Citigroup’s massacre of 11,000 souls caused its stock to jump. But the same day, we learn that wages adjusted for inflation dropped 1.4% in the third quarter—a continuation of 12 years of declines that has hollowed out the middle class, pushed people into the lower classes, and devastated the poor.
The inexplicable American consumer, the strongest creature out there that no one has been able to subdue yet, has come to grips with a new reality, euphemistically called “New Normal,” though it isn’t normal by any means, but dismal. Feeling more upbeat, they nudged up the Consumer Confidence Index to a level not seen since February 2008—a level that caused people to tear their hair out at the time.
Anecdotal evidence has been coagulating into numbers, and these numbers are now beginning to weigh down corporate earnings calls. It appears the toughest creature out there, the one that no one has been able to subdue yet, the ever wily and inexplicable American consumer, is having second thoughts about prescription drugs. And is fighting back. A paradigm shift. Causing “unprecedented concerns” in the industry.
There has been anecdotal evidence. But now GE’s quandary confirms it: the toughest creature out there that no one has been able to subdue yet, the inexplicable American consumer, has apparently accomplished a miracle: putting the screws to runaway health-care costs that are taking over the economy and that are bankrupting the country. Motive? Profit.
The strongest and toughest creatures out there that no one has been able to subdue yet, the inexplicable American consumers, are digging in their heels though the entire power structure has been pushing them relentlessly to buy more and more with money they don’t have, and borrow against future income they might never make, just so that GDP can edge up for another desperate quarter. But it’s been tough.
The strongest and toughest creature out there, and maybe the smartest one, that no one has been able to subdue yet, the inexplicable American consumer has hit a wall. It showed up in a prosaic but ugly 8-K filing by Visa—a staggering and sudden shift that pundits tried to explain away somehow by referring to recent changes in debit card regulations. I mean, come on.
Consumer optimism has been rising from the morose multi-year low in August and has reached levels not seen since, well, May. It whipped hope into a froth. Rising confidence would pump up consumer spending, which would pump up everything else. But the inexplicable American consumer, the toughest creature out there that no one has been able to subdue yet, had other plans.
According to last week’s GDP number, the economy has been growing supposedly at a rate of 2.5% in the third quarter—thanks largely to the inexplicable American consumer, the toughest creature out there. But there are some pernicious trends and unpleasant zigzags that point the opposite way.