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Consumer Spending and Balance Trends

Recently, the Commerce Department reported that consumer spending levels continued to rise in February, increasing for the fifth straight month *, while flat income levels drove savings levels lower. At the same time, media outlets such as Fox Businesses, reported that the consumer “shopping cart” ** showed price increases for the fourth straight month.

Somewhat in opposition to this market trend, the Q4 2009 Experian-Oliver Wyman Market Intelligence Reports reveal that the average level of credit card debt per consumer decreased overall, but showed increases in only one score band. In the Q4 reports, the score band that demonstrated balance increases was VantageScore A – the super prime consumer – whose average balance went up $30 to $1,739. In this time of economic challenge and pressure on household incomes, it’s interesting to see that the lower credit scoring consumers display the characteristics of improved credit management and deleveraging; while at the same time, consumers with credit scores in the low-risk tiers may be showing signs of increased expenses and deteriorated savings. Recent delinquency trends support that low-risk consumers are deteriorating in performance for some product vintages.

Even more interestingly, Chris Low, Chief Economist at FTN Financial in New York was quoted as saying “I guess the big takeaway is that consumers are comfortably consuming again. We have positive numbers five months in a row since October, which I guess is a good sign,”.  I suggest that there needs to be more analysis applied within the details of these figures to determine whether consumers really are ‘comfortable’ with their spending, or whether this is just a broad assumption that is masking the uncomfortable realities that lie within.