J.P. Morgan has taken to issuing warnings over the mental state and overall health of the American consumer’s habits. As a nation, we are deeply indebted to consumerism and that’s what is currently keeping the fragile economy afloat.
With the manufacturing industry already officially in a recession, the Institute of Supply Management purchasing manager index was registering a reading of 47.8 (anything over 50 indicated growth) for September, the worst reading since 2009 the news seems bleak even for the consumerism that’s fueling this debt-based economy. The U.S. and the Chinese trade war is also degrading business confidence, causing management teams to pull back on spending. That leaves consumers to carry the economic water – and many are tapped out; no longer able to take on any more debt in order to keep things afloat.
J.P. Morgan consumer-finance analyst Richard Shane sees this as bad news for the stocks he covers, according to Barron’s. On Tuesday morning, Shane cut his target prices on every single stock he covers—including names like American Express and Capital One Financial—by an average of almost 10%. What’s more, he downgraded shares of auto lender Ally Financial.
Shane is seeing some visible cracks in this “booming” economy and it’s time to be aware of them, “While the sector should continue to enjoy solid fundamentals through year-end, our outlook headed into 2020 becomes more cautious,” Shane wrote in a research report. “Specifically, the prospects of a slowing economy, indications of pockets of labor weakness and heightened political uncertainty all may weigh on the group.”
Investors so far, appear to be aware of the risks in the markets going into 2020. Consumers, on the other hand, appear to have hardly noticed any of the red flags appearing right in front of them. After all, total household debt rose to $13.9 trillion in the second quarter, its 20th consecutive quarter of growth, according to Shane. Most consumer debt is housing-related, but borrowers also have $1.3 trillion in car loans. $0.8 trillion in credit-card debt, and $1.5 trillion in student debt.
Shane doesn’t see the bottom falling out of the economy. He doesn’t think it’s time to panic just yet because while consumer debt loads are at record highs, debt as a percentage of household wealth isn’t, he points out.
But the red flags are still there. Consumerism is being fueled by a strong job market. Should that go sightly the wrong way, things could get ugly, quickly.