Quick quiz: what is the pillar of this bull market? Unless you answered “the US consumer”, you probably are not getting a passing grade. Therefore, any dents to the teflon-coated US consumer are very worrying, and that looks like the road we are headed down. New consumer spending data is in and it is poor. Spending at gas stations, on cars, and on home materials was considerably weaker. The overall boom in spending now appears to be over as we head into the winter, which could prove to be more than just meteorological.
FINSUM: There is good news and bad news. On the downside, this means that consumers may no longer be able to shoulder the load of carrying the economy. On the positive side, this could lead to rate cuts by the Fed, which the market would love, at least in the short-term.
With the Fed coming in less dovish than expected this week, there is suddenly much more anxiety in the market. Without a clear direction on rates, and with lingering worries about the economy, the outlook for stocks and bonds is not clear. And as we all know, markets hate uncertainty. Accordingly, the search for the best recession-proof stocks continues, and we have a new proposal today: fast food stocks. As consumer spending falls in a recession, bargain-providing companies, like fast food, often do well. The sector also provides healthy dividends. Take a look at the usual suspects: McDonalds, Wendy’s, and Chipotle, and some you may not have thought of, like Cracker Barrel and Restaurant Brands International.
FINSUM: The “Dollar menu” suddenly becomes very attractive to the American consumer when times start getting tough. These stocks seem a good bet, especially because they have solid dividends, which should provide some protection in case a downturn doesn’t happen.
If higher inflation could be a headwind to rate cuts by the Fed, then there is new data today that could prove a tailwind. New figures show that retail spending was significantly weaker in August than in past months. The data showed that core retail spending stagnated after several months of strong expansion. The data is crucial because consumer spending, and American consumer health generally, has been a bedrock of the economy.
FINSUM: The American consumer has been keeping the economy afloat despite a lot of negative signs around the margins. This could either be a blip or the start of a worrying trend.
New data just released shows the US economy is a bit weaker than everyone expected. Second quarter GDP data has been revised downward, showing that the US expanded at only 2.0% in the quarter instead of the first-reported 2.1%. Government spending, weaker exports, and private inventories weighed on the numbers. However, the very good news in the data is that consumer spending increase was the strongest in 4.5 years.
FINSUM: Consumer spending is at its highest levels since 2014 at the same time as bond yields are at extraordinary lows and everyone is worried about a recession. Either a recession will arrive or there will be some big losses in bond markets.
Stop worrying so much about the US economy. That is what Bank of America is saying. The bank’s CEO went on the record yesterday explaining the simple reason that the US will avoid a recession. That reason? US consumer health. Moynihan cited internal statistics from BAML that showed that consumer spending has risen almost 6% in Bank of America accounts in the last 12 months versus the previous 12 months, showing that consumers are healthy. Consumer spending makes up 68% of the US economy. Moynihan was dismissive of the yield curve inversion, saying it is likely just a product of an influx of money because of negative yields elsewhere.
FINSUM: Bank of America is the largest US deposit holder, so it has an unparalleled insight into consumer spending. We think this is quite a positive sign.