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posted on 11 August 2016

Early Wilted Shoots?

by Danielle DiMartino Booth, Money Strong

The U.S. Consumer: Are the Jetsons' Jets Still On?

Money Strong Article of the Week 11 August 2016

We've been told it is time to come together and celebrate. The U.S. consumer is once again spending with abandon...on credit, that is. In the three months ending June 30th, total household debt rose by $35 billion to $12.3 trillion, driven quite literally off the lot by auto debt and, of course, student loans.

But there is a new, really popular kid in town, though he's actually old. He made his debut in 1968. It's called the credit card and Americans are embracing the power of plastic with the greatest gusto since the heat of the credit boom in 2007. How quickly we forget that millions of Americans abandoned credit cards for a self-imposed form of Lent in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

But that was then. The plastic austerity ended two years ago and credit card usage has soared since. Add up the cars, cards, student loans, and yes, even mortgages. Though it may be hard to believe, total household debt is less than $400 billion shy of its $12.68 trillion 2008 peak.

At the rate households are tacking on fresh debt, we'll be there in no time. Or will we? There's no great mystery surrounding the recent peak in car sales as lenders begin to choke on bad loans. As of June, net losses in asset backed securities tied to subprime auto loans have mounted to 6.12 percent, according to S&P Global Ratings. That's up not so smartly from 4.62 last June. The culprit: the rapid deterioration of deep subprime 2015 vintage loans (no typo). That's what happens when that last marginal buyer is forced into the loan pool to keep the car lot hopping.

As for what's to come on the consumer spending power front...Since last week, we've learned that those who have been unemployed for five weeks or less declined in July. So the 'good unemployment' went in the wrong direction. Meanwhile, those who felt confident enough to quit in June, the latest data we have on hand, also fell back to April levels.

We take what we can get when it comes to economic data given its lagged nature, the more leading in nature the better. What we know today is that the two best indicators we have on hand to provide direction on the job market's prospects don't suggest good news to come as summer turns into fall.

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