A concern that we highlighted in yesterday’s post is that the only way the U.S. economy can generate significant consumer spending is through aggressive lending to borrowers with low credit scores, eventually wrecking their credit and forcing them to struggle to repair their credit. Here is more evidence supporting that view.
In the chart below, we plot retail spending on appliances, furniture, and home improvement, or “home-related spending” (blue line) and spending on new autos (red line) from 1998 through 2014. We have highlighted the two major subprime lending booms we’ve seen in that period — the subprime mortgage lending boom from 2003 to 2006, and the subprime auto loan boom from 2010 to 2014. In order to be able to include 2014, we focus only on the first four months of each year.
When subprime mortgage lending was booming from 2003 to 2006, so were purchases of home-related goods. As soon as the subprime mortgage lending market crashed, so did home-related spending. In fact, in 2014, home-related spending is still below its 2006 level in nominal terms. It’s a pretty incredible boom and bust.
For auto spending, growth was positive prior to the Great Recession, but unspectacular. But as soon as subprime auto lending heated up in 2011 and afterward, so did purchases of new auto vehicles. The growth in new auto sales from 2011 to 2014 has been really impressive. So once again, spending in a particular market is strongest when subprime lending in that market is strongest.
It appears that the key to boosting spending in the U.S. economy is subprime lending. The financial system was lending against homes before the Great Recession, and now it has moved to lending against cars. But the basic message is the same.