Despite fears about the economy, we’re not necessarily acting like we’re afraid, according to the latest numbers on consumer spending.
The economy has been sluggish with no roaring recovery after the supposed end of the recession. Yet we’ve been more willing to open our wallets lately.
Though we’re still saving more than we make, it’s not as much as it has been over the last few years. We’re out there more making purchases. Cars, as an example, have been selling better than expected. Ditto for major appliances. Overall, retail sales were up to the highest level they’ve been all year. You’d have to go back to last Christmas to find a time when people were opening their wallets as much as they are right now.
Part of the healing is that the average American is carrying credit card debt that’s one fourth less than four years ago. Moody’s reports the number of credit cards in circulation is down. Four years ago, we had two in circulation for every American, including newborns. Today we’re down to 1.5 cards for every American.
So this is real spending, not based on borrowed money.
Those are signs that another recession is not likely. (Of course, we never got out of a recession on the employment front.) But we are learning how to adjust to this as the new normal. Consumers are buying and businesses are investing in new products and services.
Business in particular has been very creative at figuring out how to survive and thrive the slings and arrows of a tough economy. In a lot of sectors, there’s actually less competition. The survivors have adapted and are planning to grow. Darden Restaurants, for example, is making Outback Steakhouse a real growth center with a lot of planned openings.
Step by step, company by company, capitalists decide they think there’s a future and they make a go of it.
We are not out of the woods by any means, but we are not headed to a second slump either — barring any unexpected events in the world.