Consumer Spending Drives the Dow Higher

Three of the four biggest gains on the Dow Jones (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) today come from the financial sector. Consumer credit card operator American Express (NYSE: AXP  ) leads the charge with a 3% overnight jump, closely followed by the two megabanks. Today is a good day for consumer-spending news, which points to progress in the economic recovery in general.

You'll find plenty of commentators pinning this surge on positive Fed reports. For example, weekly jobless claims came in lower than expected this week. It's a short-sighted data point, compiled on a weekly basis, but any move downward is good news.

But that's not the real catalyst in play today. The engine that's really driving the Dow 0.76% higher this morning isn't even part of the premium index.

I'm talking about credit card issuer MasterCard (NYSE: MA  ) . The plastic-payments manager just reported second-quarter sales 5% above analyst expectations and earnings 10% above Wall Street targets.

Card members increased their credit card spending by 13% year over year. The report comes on the heels of industry rival Visa (NYSE: V  ) , which also showed 13% higher payment volumes last week. American Express reported an 8% increase two weeks ago.

All three companies' reporting periods ended on June 30, so we're comparing apples to apples -- not just spotting a trend that began developing after American Express' report. Even the slowest of these gains was a rebound from the still smaller growth rates of recent quarters. Any way you slice it, the three credit card giants are singing the same song: Consumer spending is back, baby.

Investors across every consumer-facing sector are hoping for a serious climb in personal-spending trends as we head into the holidays. (Is it really August already? There's Halloween candy on store shelves here in Tampa!) MasterCard just gave us a reason to believe in what Visa and American Express hinted at earlier.

Consumer sentiment is generally on the rise, and credit defaults have already dropped below 2007 levels. Put all these clues together, and a healthy holiday-shopping season seems to be in the cards.

US Consumer Sentiment Chart

US Consumer Sentiment data by YCharts.

MasterCard CFO Martina Hund-Mejean would agree: "We now believe that second half net revenue growth will be similar to what we saw in the first half," she said in last night's earnings call. Remember, the first half turned out to be stronger than the Street had expected.

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