The Lex Newsletter: US bank card knowledge mingle household enjoyable with dire want


This article is an on-site model of The Lex Newsletter. Sign up right here to get the entire publication despatched straight to your inbox each Wednesday and Friday

Dear reader,

The drumbeat of recession is getting louder. Stocks are falling. Bond yields are surging. Jitters over inflation and fee rises boiled over and pushed the S&P 500 into bear market territory this week. Almost 70 per cent of main tutorial economists polled by the Financial Times consider the US economic system will backpedal subsequent yr.

Yet pessimism concerning the economic system has not stored Americans from reaching for his or her credit score and debit playing cards. For all of the recession speak, the US labour market stays on a stable footing. An unemployment fee of three.6 per cent hovers close to historic lows. Consumers as a complete are displaying stunning resilience.

Consumer spending, which accounts for greater than two-thirds of US financial exercise, elevated 0.9 per cent in April, in accordance with the most recent knowledge from the commerce division.

More latest stories on bank card utilization recommend the pattern is holding up. At Bank of America, complete credit score and debit card spending was up 9 per cent yr on yr in May, whereas complete transaction quantity grew 7 per cent.

Data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis confirmed total client revolving debt — which is usually primarily based on bank card balances — stood at $869bn as of June 1. That is 9 per cent larger in contrast with the beginning of the yr and surpasses the pre-pandemic peak.

All that spending is clear in New York City. People are nonetheless queueing for iced lattes exterior hipster espresso outlets, regardless of costs now pushing in direction of $7 a cup. At the Vietnamese restaurant that I frequent, tables stay exhausting to come back by, despite the fact that costs on most menu objects have gone up by a couple of third this yr.

After two years of pandemic-related restrictions, Americans are eager to be out and about once more. And they’re greater than prepared to splurge for the expertise. The two greatest on-line journey websites, Booking Holdings and Expedia, have predicted this might be their busiest summer season journey season ever — larger airfare and resort charges be damned!

United Airlines mentioned it had seen a surge in worldwide journey searches after the US this week stopped requiring worldwide passengers to supply proof of a adverse Covid-19 check to enter the nation.

But Americans’ eagerness to stay giant might not inform your complete story. Higher client spending can also be being pushed by larger costs on the pump and for on a regular basis items. Average fuel costs have climbed nearly two-thirds over the previous 12 months to high $5 a gallon. Even if individuals are shopping for the identical quantity of meals and gasoline, client spending will rise just because costs are larger.

Consumer spending figures might subsequently understate the influence of spiralling dwelling prices, notably on lower-income households. These are the primary to be affected by a slowdown within the economic system. Higher bank card debt factors to monetary desperation in addition to well-off Americans having enjoyable.

For now, inflation doesn’t appear to be straining the budgets of common households. Although delinquency for bank card loans is creeping up once more, they continue to be low by historic requirements.

Line chart of all commercial banks (%) showing US credit card delinquency rate

For bank card firms, creating wealth received’t be simple. One consequence of the resurgence in card spending is elevated competitors. Card issuers are stepping up their combat for brand spanking new prospects by providing extra rewards and loosening lending requirements.

That might clarify why shares in standalone card firms comparable to Synchrony, Capital One Financial, Discover Financial Services and American Express are down 13 to 37 per cent this yr.

The adjustment to larger charges and weaker development can be painful and prolonged. Anecdotally, credit score is already changing into a lot much less out there. The story advised by bank card balances is extra advanced and fewer constructive than the bald numbers at first recommend.

Enjoy the remainder of your week

Pan Kwan Yuk
Lex author

If you wish to obtain common updates every time we publish Lex, do add us to your FT Digest, and you’re going to get an instantaneous electronic mail alert each time we publish. You may see each Lex column through the webpage

Unhedged — Robert Armstrong dissects crucial market tendencies and discusses how Wall Street’s finest minds reply to them. Sign up right here

FT Asset Management — The inside story on the movers and shakers behind a multitrillion-dollar trade. Sign up right here