Weak U.S. consumer demand puts the economy on a slowdown

As we have all become supply chain experts in the past year, more of us have become familiar with the terrible “bullwhip effect”, where shortages of goods unexpectedly become surpluses. Well, the bullwhip seems to have broken, at least for many American retailers.

For months, American consumers have been making excuses for inventory shortages, and now they are trying to lure them back to stores or websites by promising extended sales time, discounts, and faster delivery. But it seems that the buying public is no longer so interested.

As a result, commodities such as furniture, electrical appliances and building materials that were once inaccessible are piling up in warehouses and shops.

Some of this evidence comes from the Chicago ISM, a business barometer of the Midwest, often regarded as a leading indicator of national economic activity. Its inventory index rose 8.5 points to 59.6 last month, the highest level since the fall of 2018 in the United States. The order backlog of manufacturers in the region fell by 18.8 points to 60.8, which is 6 points below the 12-month average.

Similarly, the U.S. manufacturing IHS Markit Purchasing Managers Index in November this week tip Increase inventory construction. It said that this often reflects concerns about the future supply situation.

Due to reduced inventories and fewer new orders, this smooth supply chain seems to slow down the world’s largest consumer economy in the first quarter of next year. The surplus of finished products may also lead to price weakness, alleviating the current inflationary panic. This time, the Fed’s forecast—high inflation is temporary—may be correct.

For decades, I have been following economist Susan Sterne’s report on American consumers. I think no one can compare her in buying trends, inventory levels, sentiment indicators, and labor dynamics. Obsessive details. Policymakers I know will agree.

According to Sterne, at the retail level, “this seems to be more in short supply, which is consistent with consumers’ views on the current buying situation.” She said that consumers are in a bad mood and in most cases do not think this is a good time to buy something.

Stern said that this sentiment is actually a leading indicator because it can predict consumer spending. “I will pay attention to online sales announcements and receive emails. Every time the sale is extended. Otherwise, the retailer will not be able to get the quantity,” she said.

If they do not get that amount, they will have a lot of things, especially durable goods such as electrical appliances, which will still exist in January. “I think they [retailers and wholesalers] Overestimate what people will rush to buy,” she said.

No one wants to spoil the holiday atmosphere or have such optimistic assumptions from the beginning.

But what about all the public’s funds in bank accounts or high-priced securities? According to Stern, “the only people who have savings are high-income people who can now choose not to spend money. Consumer debt levels are quite high. This is especially true for young people—borrowing for this age group has increased significantly.”

The wages of hourly workers such as Amazon warehouses or Wal-Mart stores have risen sharply. But the inflation that accompanies the economic recovery has swallowed most of the gains.

In recent months, the additional funds flowing from government payments to low- and middle-income groups have dried up. After reaching a peak of nearly US$500 billion in March, it fell to just over US$200 billion in October.

The Democrats in Congress and the Biden administration had hoped to incorporate some lucrative transfer payment plans into the congressional reconstruction plan now under intense tension. These are now being negotiated to reduce these. Regardless of the outcome, the future Republican Congress may be further reduced.

The public also knows that tax increases are coming, not just billionaires. At the beginning of the pandemic, the payment of government-sponsored student loans was delayed, which was a heavy burden for young consumers. The extension will expire in February, and there are no plans to extend the deadline.

To me, all this shows that there is no need to suppress any “animal spirits” of the general public through interest rate or energy price increases. And there will be some big discounts in the store next month.

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