One month ago, the crusty commentators at CNN complained that U.S. consumers were not "spending like drunken sailors," and hurting the economy as a result. Well, congratulations CNN. You finally got your wish. This morning, the Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis administered its monthly breathalyzer test to the U.S. economy. Result: We blew a "0.20."
Tripping over a 0.1% decline in real disposable personal income, consumers fell with wallets held open, spilling out a 0.2% rise in real spending. And with little cash left in our wallet's post-tumble, the national personal savings rate shed 0.3% -- down to 5.9%.
So for all the media pundits out there, mocking sober sailors with their stereotypes -- wake up! Because even when drunk, at least sailors returning to port are only spending their paychecks. American consumers, in contrast, are spending money we don't have ...
The government ate my paycheck
But here's the really interesting news: Even if we poor, weak-willed consumers are drunk, it's not entirely our fault. Somebody slipped us a mickey. You see, even as real disposable income declined, consumers thought they were doing just swell. Wages and salaries actually increased 0.3%, or half-again as much as the increase in spending, in July. It's just that between the effects of supposedly non-existent inflation, and supposedly low taxes, somewhere along the way, 0.3% of our national paycheck vanished.
So, the question becomes: How do we get our cash back? Since I write for an investing site, my advice probably won't surprise you: Invest in stocks. According to BEA, one of the few places consumers are still spending is in the auto sector, which accounted for half the increase in consumer spending last month. Sales are soaring at Ford (NYSE: F ) , and at suppliers Johnson Controls (NYSE: JCI ) , Lear (NYSE: LEA ) , and American Axle (NYSE: AXL ) .
Other "durable goods" industries are doing similarly well. For example, one big reason U.S. GDP took a hit last week is because we're importing lots of iPhones and big-screen TVs from abroad. Often, these goods are manufactured by U.S. companies -- Apple, obviously, and Corning (NYSE: GLW ) , which dominates the market for LCD TV glass. But because they make them elsewhere, they hurt "GDP" when we import them back home. In contrast, you probably want to avoid clothiers like The Gap (NYSE: GPS ) . BEA says spending on "non-durable" goods like clothing remains a weak spot in the economy.
If consumers are drunk ... investing in companies that profit from profligacy seems the only sober solution.
That's my take on BEA's latest facts and figures. But what do you think? Take the Foolish Rorschach test, and tell us what you see in the chart up above, below.