The Pulse of the Consumer: Beatly Strongly Again?
By: Brian O'Connell

NEW YORK (BankingMyWay) – With the unemployment rate over 8%, bank savings rates near 0% and gasoline prices cresting near $4 per gallon, you’d think Americans would be sour about the U.S. economy.

Well, they’re not exactly waving pompoms, but consumers are more optimistic about the economy than at any time in the past four years.

The evidence for that comes from a study from banking behemoth JPMorgan Chase (Stock Quote: JPM).

A cynic might say big banks want consumers to feel better about the economy – that it takes the heat off large financial institutions over the toxic role they played in sinking the U.S. economy. But Chase delivers a somewhat sunny picture whether you’re a cynic or not.

Its annual Pulse of the Consumer survey, released Tuesday, reports that 64% of Americans say the economy has “bottomed out.” That’s almost double the 33% from last year’s survey.

The report does have some downbeat news. Only 36% of consumers have increased their personal savings over the past four years, for instance, and just 34% have hiked their retirement savings. But why are Americans so increasingly bullish about the economy?

Here are some clues and cues from the Chase study:

  • They have curbed their spending habits. Consumers have done a good job pulling back on personal spending, with 78% of study participants now spending less on personal spending.
  • More are creating – and using – household budgets. According to the study, 54% of Americans are building household budgets and sticking to them.
  • They are getting value conscious and “shopping smarter.” Americans are getting more choosy about what products and services they buy, with 45% of respondents say they are “financially motivated” to get the most bang for their buck – just as Americans did coming out of the Great Depression 75 years ago.
  • As a result, more are planning “major purchases.” Chase reports that the number of U.S. consumers planning on buying a car or home are growing, by 11% and 13% respectively. That’s a decent sign that Americans are feeling better about the economy, as larger purchases are emotional purchases and few consumers makes them unless they have some confidence in the nation’s economic health.

    Americans aren’t exactly singing that “happy days are here again,” Chase says, but the year-to-year outlook is undeniably more positive on the U.S. economy.

    As consumer confidence makes up about two-thirds of U.S. economic growth (as measured by gross domestic product), the Chase study may be the most bullish report yet since the Great Recession on consumers and the economy.

    Whether that confidence sticks or not is up for debate, so it’s worth keeping a close eye on consumer confidence heading into 2013.

    —For more ways to save, spend, invest and borrow, visit MainStreet.com.

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