Inflation zaps US savings rate, a warning sign for some

Americans are saving less, a potentially troublesome sign for the US economy.

The personal savings rate, as a percentage of disposable income, fell to 4.4% in April, the lowest level since 2008 according to the Commerce Department. Total savings slipped to $815 billion. For some, the decline is a red flag for consumer spending, which accounts for 70% of gross domestic product (GDP).

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“We’re starting to dip into savings because what generally happens in periods of inflation is you see demand destruction because prices just get too high and people just stop consuming whatever it is,” said Mitch Roschelle, Macro Trends Advisors LLC founding partner. “While we haven’t truly seen demand destruction yet, the first thing that happens is people start dipping into savings because they’re not willing to slow down consumption.”

Consumer spending, shopping

With consumer inflation at a 40-year-high, costs are rising for everything from fuel to food, chipping away at personal balance sheets.

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While consumers are still spending, dollars are not going as far. Walmart and Target both reported a slowdown in sales and profits during their recent quarterly earnings reports because of inflation.

Ticker Security Last Change Change %
TGT TARGET CORP. 167.17 +3.99 +2.45%
WMT WALMART INC. 128.42 +2.42 +1.92%

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon even warned there may be more pain ahead.

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon

Doug McMillon, president and CEO of Walmart Inc. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

“On the food side, we’re seeing double-digit inflation, and I’m concerned that, that inflation may continue to increase,” he said in response to a question on the retailer’s earnings call.

Consumer Sentiment

Surveys of Consumers, May 2022 Final Results (University of Michigan)

In a separate report, the University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index fell over 10% in May to a reading of 58.4, the lowest since August 2011.

“The recent drop was largely driven by continued negative views on current buying conditions for houses and durables, as well as consumers’ future outlook for the economy, primarily due to concerns over inflation…”

– Surveys of Consumers Director Joanne Hsu, University of Michigan

“The consumer is really pessimistic, the Michigan survey came out and told us that people are as pessimistic about consumption as they’ve been going all the way back financial crisis and one way you can see that is the savings rate has dipped to below 5 % which is the lowest it’s been since the September of the Lehman [Brothers] crash. So the consumer is seeing all this price news and thinking, ‘Whoa, I got to take it easy,'” said Kevin Hassett, former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors for the Trump administration, during an interview on “Cavuto: Coast to Coast.”

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