US stock market is no threat to consumption

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    It is well-known that since the global financial crisis, the American GDP growth has been doing fairly well. A part of the explanation is found among the private households, as their economic conditions have improved during the past decade, at least it’s the case for some households. Just before the financial crisis, the total US household debt amounted to 98.6 percent of GDP, though that ratio has over time decreased to 75 percent. This is quite noteworthy, and a reason why for example the US housing market has been in a steady for years. On the other hand, there is also a reason why the housing market has not been overflooded by new buyers despite the falling debt ratio among the households.

    53 million people had freelance jobs in the US in 2014, it is estimated to have increased to 57 million this year, and some predict that the number will be 90 million in 2028.

    It is by far, not only because freelancers in the United States cannot get a permanent job that they become freelancers.

    On the contrary, this type of work fits to a changing lifestyle, and others choose this work life because they can immediately earn more as a freelancer than by doing the same work as a permanent employee.

    But the exploding number of freelancers also contains the truth about all the self-employed consultants and freelancers that need to work many hours to earn a living. This number of low-paid freelancers in the labor market is growing, together with the increasing proportion of workers who are permanently employed in low-wage jobs.

    People with low paid jobs might, under normal macroeconomic conditions, be able to make a living having just one job. But during tougher economic periods, the same people will have to work more hours each week, forcing them to take in an extra job or two.

    This growing share of low-income households represent one of the long-term shifts among American consumers, as middle-income jobs and households have been shrinking since decades.

    Fundamentally, it’s a long-term trend, but it also has implications for current investment decisions, and of course, for strategic decisions. What I argue is that almost regardless of the GDP-growth rate, a growing number of households in the US are living under survival economic conditions, i.e., a growing part of the private American economy is becoming what I would describe as a “survival economy”.

    This increasing group of consumers will tend to consume the same, measured in absolute terms, where the variable is how many hours it is necessary to work per week, just to keep living on a survival level.

    This has an impact on wage inflation and the inflation in general, but it also makes it easier to predict the results among the businesses that specifically sell to the low earning household segments, which again make investments in these companies particularly attractive during periods with a slowing economy.

    As mentioned, the extreme flexible labor market may seem tempting for American companies, but I assess the growing survival economy as a long-term threat for the US economy.

    A strong economy must be agile and flexible, but I argue that if the “survival economy” spreads, then a growing part of the consumer-driven American economy will become very static. It will also become outspoken that the middle-class income households are increasingly missing, those who spend the extra money when the economy is in an upturn.

    I expect the growing survival economy to have one important, and basically positive, effect for the robustness of the US economy.

    Almost ironically, I expect this growing block of survival households in the US to become a stabilizing factor for the private consumption, and it is one of the reasons why I have argued since a couple of years that an economic recession is very unlikely.