Thursday, December 17, 2009

The New Consumer

Barron's originally dealt with this back in June:

As savings rise and the market rallies, however, a new consumer is emerging, seeking a sensible middle ground between the gross excesses of the mid-2000s and the privations of the past year. He -- and more often, she -- is likely to find it in companies that offer great products, excellent service and outstanding value, which, by the way, doesn't always mean the lowest price.

Now the WSJ weighs in:

The economy appears to have begun recovering after the worst recession in half a century. But businesses ranging from shoemakers to financial services to luxury hotels don't expect American consumers to return to their spendthrift ways anytime soon. They see consumers emerging from the punishing downturn with a new mind-set: careful, practical, more socially conscious and embarrassed by flashy shows of wealth.

Much as the 1930s shaped the spending habits of an entire generation, many companies now anticipate a shift in consumer behavior that persists even after jobs and growth get back closer to normal.

"We seem to be at a cultural inflection point that we haven't seen since World War II," said Jim Taylor, vice chairman of market researcher the Harrison Group. Last month it surveyed 1,800 affluent Americans and found that 48% think they could suffer major financial losses in the future. "People are getting used to being careful, and I don't know how you undo that," Mr. Taylor said.

This ties in to a few interesting developments.

Total household debt outstanding is decreasing. Therefore

Debt service payments as a percentage of disposable income are decreasing. In addition

The financial services obligation ratio is also dropping. In addition,

The savings rate is increasing, indicating we're spending less.

So, we're paying down debt and becoming thriftier. We're becoming our parents.