Recently compiled consumer spending data confirm what fashion apparel retailers have said for the past year: people have money, but they’re not spending it on clothes.
When they do spend, they’re buying cars and other durable goods, while a greater portion of their expenditures are also taken up by health care, housing and transportation costs, according to data released this week from the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. Moreover, analysts note that lower-income households have less disposable income than they did in prior years, and they are the ones forced to spend what they have on necessities such as health care, housing, transportation and insurance.
The BLS report breaks down spending by regions and states — the first time the agency is doing so. The personal consumption expenditures tracked per capita spending from 2013 to 2014. In total, consumer spending rose 4.2 percent in that period, which compares to a 2.4 percent gross domestic product growth rate for the same period. Consumer spending on goods and services comprises about two-thirds of GDP.
The states with the greatest spending growth per capita included North Dakota, Montana, Utah and Colorado — states that have benefited from a natural gas and bakken oil boom, which peaked in 2012 and has since declined. Other states with comparatively higher growth rates in consumer spending include New York, Florida, Texas, Oregon and Washington. The higher growth rates in these states were between 4.5 and 7.4 percent. This compares to growth rates of less than 3.6 percent for states in the South and Midwest.
By segment, spending growth in the period on clothing and footwear showed a gain of 1.8 percent. This compares to year-over-year growth rates of 6.2 percent for transportation services; 5.6 percent for motor vehicles and parts; 4.8 percent for recreation services; 4.1 percent for housing and utilities; 5.7 percent for other non-durable goods; 5.7 percent for food services and accommodations, and 5.4 percent for financial services and insurance.
Health-care spending had a growth rate of 3.9 percent while off-premises food and beverages saw a 2.4 percent gains. Recreational goods and vehicles rose 2.2 percent. Gasoline and other energy goods was the only spending category to decline with a 2.9 percent drop in expenditures. This shows that the so-called gas dividend was not spent on apparel, but went to other categories instead.
This shift in spending continues to play out this past year while there is also growing pressure on lower-income earners, noted analysts observing the current holiday shopping season.
While sales on Cyber Monday broke records, traffic was flat in stores and sales were down compared to last year for the combined Thanksgiving and Black Friday period. This is noteworthy since about 90 percent of total retail sales during the holiday shopping season occur in physical stores.
Craig R. Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, said this past weekend that consumers in the bottom 80-percentile income bracket have experienced a 2 percent decline in real disposable income. And IHS Global Insight director of consumer economics Chris Christopher said median household income adjusted for inflation is 4.6 percent below what is was in 2007. And this is because the bottom 50 percent “are still struggling,” Christopher said adding that “payroll cycle economics — the effect of consumers doing their shopping in the day or two after they are paid — is becoming increasingly important in this economy.”
Christopher said on Black Friday, due to the payroll cycle, there were 20 million fewer paychecks in the market. Interestingly, those 20 million paychecks went out on Monday, Nov. 30, which likely helped fuel the Cyber Monday boom.