Here we go again. The headlines are making big news of the latest consumer spending numbers from the Commerce Department. If the markets go down, they'll get the blame. If the markets go up, the headline writers will invent some other excuse.
I know. I'm a broken record on this stuff. It's not that I think we've got nothing to worry about, or that it's good news that we spent 0.5% less in August than we did in July. But like any number, it's just one number. How about we concentrate instead on the (presumed) optimism among manufacturers, represented by a 3.3% rise in orders for durable goods?
No? Well, then keep in mind that even the ugly numbers are open to a variety of interpretations. First of all, people were pretty freaked out by a major hurricane, and the unpleasant surprises at the pump surely had more than a few questioning whether or not they needed to supersize that value meal or take a bag lunch instead.
Now, one way to look at this would be to hypothesize that people did what they always do when they're scared: They overreacted. That would also suggest that we might see a rebound in spending later, once they realize that the end is not near.
For those who believe the opposite, that these numbers represent the last gasp of the overleveraged American shopaholic (yes, they're addicted to shopahol), I'll give you something else to worry about. Recent numbers from the American Bankers' Association confirm that credit card and consumer-loan delinquency rates are at all-time highs as well. See those folks standing next to you on the train platform? Nearly one in 20 is past due on the plastic.
What's an investor to do? Personally, I think you could do worse than find something in the already pricey-looking oil patch. Let's just say that when I'm stuck in the metro-shuttle, the vast majority of the cars I see are occupied by a single driver. I don't think anything's going to slake our incredible thirst for gasoline, meaning that ExxonMobil
If you want to try to ride the trend of overspending and undersaving, you could lay off the high-end stocks that might be the first to see a drop in revenues if our nation's serial borrowers have to move their spending down the luxury scale. You could avoid the likes of Tiffany
The bottom line is this: Foolish investing means finding what works in any economic times. There's always something.
For related Fool commentary:
- Should you prepare for the crash?
- Is oil hitting a peak?
- Or do slippery, Saudi predictions bode well for the oil patch?
Seth Jayson is obviously a complete Fool. At the time of publication, he had no positions in any company mentioned here, and all his shorts are fully clothed. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here. Portfolio Recovery Associates is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems pick. Fool rules are here.