American consumers aren't spending with the gusto you'd expect, what with U.S. unemployment plumbing a 16-year low of 4.3%, wages ticking up, and the stock market hitting record highs, Barron's columnist Kopin Tan writes in "The Surprising Threat to the American Economy":
The problem: "Real U.S. personal spending is growing at about 2.6% year over year, when it should be closer to 4%, given the much-ballyhooed global recovery."
The reason: "Our attitude toward spending and debt has changed, as well, and the bursting of the housing bubble has deflated our love of conspicuous consumption. Families are saving more, despite being penalized for saving by zero interest rates."
Key stat 1: "Thanks to the levitating stock market and recovering home prices, household net worth is 37% higher than it was at the housing-bubble peak ... with 30% of our net worth now tied to stocks and mutual funds."
Key stat 2: "The share of national spending eaten up by three items — health care, housing, and education — has ballooned from 25% in 1980 to more than 36% by 2015."
The bottom line: "A stock market trading at all-time highs carries with it the burden of great expectations, but investors might be looking to the burgeoning middle class overseas to pick up the spending slack and goose the global economy. American consumers have done their fair share, and they deserve a break."