Monday, January 5, 2015

Behold The "Cheap Gas" Spending Surge: $1 More Per Day

For all the endless media buzz pitching the bullish spin of plunging gas prices, namely that while crude capex spending and energy company earnings are both crashing, high-paying shale jobs are about to suffer pervasive layoffs and energy HY bonds are entering mass default territory leading to who knows what unexpected downstream effects, the average US consumer will spend substantially more to offset all the adverse side-effects of the plunging oil price. Or rather, was supposed to spend more. Because as Gallup finds, this did not happen.
Here is what did happen:
U.S. consumers' average daily spending in December was $98, matching the upper reaches on this measure since 2008. While strong relative to the recent recessionary period, it is similar to the $95 found in November, as well as the $96 in December 2013.
So crude tumbles in half, as does a gallon of gas, and US consumers spend a whopping $2 more in 2014 compared to a year ago, lifting their all in megaspend to an unprecedented $98?
Actually, make that precedented:
Because of holiday shopping, December spending has usually been the highest of any month in Gallup's seven-year history of asking this question. That was not the case in 2014, given that December's $98 average matched the $98 from May, and was barely higher than November's average.
The lack of a more significant November-to-December increase, common in prior years, could be a sign that the Christmas retail season was less than robust.
Uhm... Say what?
Maybe this only refers to those uber-wealthy Americans for whom spending on gas is such a small piece of the piece that a price reduction there doesn't have much of an impact?  Well, there's certainly that: as the following chart shows Americans making more than $90,000 a year picked up their spending to $177 daily in December, but well below the $189 and $190 over the summer, suggesting that as expected, gas prices have no impact on the spending patterns of the wealthy.
So what about the poorer part of US society, those making $90K or less: surely they spent like crazy in December rejoicing in the "tax cut" low gas prices afforded them? Well, no. Because as the next chart shows, the poorer US households spent $85 daily in December.
How does this compare to a year ago? $84. A whopping one dollar increase!
Gallup's take:
Upper-income Americans, those whose household incomes are $90,000 or more a year, had daily spending reports averaging $177 in December, among the highest for this group in 2014, and over the years since the recession. The December average is similar to last December's level. Upper-income spending has shown steady gains since September.

Spending among middle- and lower-income Americans, those whose annual household incomes are less than $90,000, was also higher than that found in most other monthly readings Gallup has conducted in the past several years. However, their spending levels in December 2014 roughly matched those in December 2013. Although spending among upper-income Americans often drives the changes in Gallup's monthly estimate, middle- and lower-income Americans make up the bulk of U.S. consumers.
And it is also the middle- and lower-income Americans that benefited the most from lower gas prices. In other words, the direct impact from the plunging oil price: an unprecedented increase from $84 to $85 between December 2013 and December 2014.
This will boost US GDP by how much again?