End of the Savings Boomlet? (Bonus David Lazarus Plagiarism)


November personal income and outlays data are out from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and with that release comes the return of the mythical consumer-driven recovery.

CNN says it's "good news for the recovery" that spending has ratcheted up slightly faster than disposable income. America's second-rated cable news channel refers vaguely to "economists" who expect income to keep rising and lead to a spending-driven upturn.

The BEA also has personal savings rates down for the month. As I explained way back when, these month-to-month changes don't actually tell us much, because they get substantially revised in subsequent months.

But one person is definitely saving—time and effort, that is. The L.A. Times' David Lazarus cuts and pastes that CNN story without quotation marks or blockquoting. It's just a blog post, and Lazarus' dangerous life of rescuing consumers from evil corporations that want to sell them goods and services doesn't leave a lot of time for niceties. He also provides a link to the original story. Still, it's not cricket to put in chunks of text some other hack wrote without setting it off in a way that's clear to a casual reader.

The month-to-month drop in personal savings, if it holds up on revision, ends a generally pro-saving trend in the BEA stats that has lasted about a year. A second opinion, drawn from Federal Reserve data, says that trend was bogus, and in any event it was going to end sooner or later. The indispensable Bill McBride of Calculated Risk suggests the savings boomlet has largely passed us by, and in his polite and circumspect way he notes that the return to stupid spending can't be described simply as "good news for the recovery." Calculated Risk:

When the recession began, I expected the saving rate to rise to 8% or more. With a rising saving rate, consumption growth would be below income growth. But that 8% rate was just a guess. It is possible the saving rate has peaked, or it might rise a little further, but either way most of the adjustment has already happened.

There is still a long way to go. I'd like to see personal income less transfer payments above the pre-recession peak, and I'd like to see personal consumption not growing faster than personal income.

Should you hold onto your depreciating dollars or spend them now on something that will hold its value a little better? Buy Edsel; they ain't making any more of the stuff.

And here's another sobering chart from Calculated Risk: Job loss severity in postwar recessions. As you can see, this one is the by far the worst, and it's on track to being the longest. Good times!