(Bloomberg News) The nearly rich aren't spending nearly as much as the wealthiest Americans on luxury brands.
Those earning from $100,000 to $249,999 a year spent 20 percent more in the first quarter on items from Honda Motor Co. Acuras to Coach Inc. handbags compared with the same period in 2009, according to figures from Unity Marketing Inc. Demand for Fiat SpA Maseratis and Coach's top-end purses propelled a 41 percent increase by those making even more.
The nearly rich are being constrained by falling home prices, income gains that lag behind inflation, 9 percent unemployment and a reluctance to dip into savings after the recession, according to economist Robert Dye. That helps explain why the Federal Reserve will be inclined to keep monetary policy accommodative, he said.
"The durability of the spending of this very important group is a key factor in judging whether the economy has transitioned from a government-aided recovery into a self- sustaining expansion," said Dye, a senior economist at PNC Financial Services Group Inc. in Pittsburgh.
The housing crisis and recession took a toll on these households, said Pam Danziger, president of Unity Marketing, a Stevens, Pennsylvania-based company that tracks luxury spending. These consumers--Danziger calls them HENRYs, or high earners not rich yet--still feel financially vulnerable, she said.
"In 2006-2007, this group was really spending their perceived wealth, and now they are spending their real income," Danziger said. "They're behaving in a middle-class sort of way, and the smart thing to do is to cut off indulgences quickly."
Share Of Spending
HENRYs' curbed shopping habits are limiting the pace of the recovery, said Danziger. While they make up about 18 percent of all households, they account for about 40 percent of consumer spending when combined with the 2 percent of the population in the ultra-affluent group.
The unemployment rate was 9 percent in April, compared with an average 5.3 percent during the economic expansion that ended in December 2007, according to the Labor Department. It reached a 26-year high of 10.1 percent in October 2009.
Home values in 20 U.S. cities were down 33 percent in February from the record reached in July 2006, according to figures from S&P/Case-Shiller.