(Dow Jones) After some retailers posted robust sales results in May, economists and others touted the heightened spending habits of the well-heeled as the start of an economic turnaround.
But wealthy Americans have held back so far in June, probably due in part to negative financial news: the stock market has yet to deliver, the battered housing market recently reared its ugly head again with record-low new-home sales, and there has been a string of weak earnings results.
"Unfortunately, the June numbers have been disappointing," said Dennis Jacobe, chief economist at Gallup, the polling company.
The strength of spending in May-up 33% to the highest monthly average since November 2008-was driven primarily by the wealthy, according to Gallup's polling.
Now, however, "they've gone back to basically 2009 levels," Jacobe said.
May's dramatic jump led Jacobe to declare that frugality fatigue had taken hold and shaken the pocketbooks of those who have money but have been afraid to spend it. A number of other studies supported that theme, and it was reiterated Monday when the government reported consumer spending rose 0.2% in May after a flat showing in April.
Wealthy shoppers "are simply tired of cutting back and want to go back to spending," Jacobe said three weeks ago. "Maybe not as freely as they did prior to the recession, but at higher levels than they did last year when frugality was common place."
That changed in June, Jacobe said recently. And BIGresearch's June consumer intentions survey found much the same results. Consumers with household incomes greater than $100,000 are planning to make more big-ticket purchases than the overall population, but the percentages for both segments are relatively flat compared to June 2009, according to a BIGresearch report on Monday.
"While fewer upper-income consumers are tightening their purse strings compared with consumers overall, it is evident that the current economic state is impacting consumers at all levels," the report said.
For example, some 13.5% of households with higher incomes said they were looking at buying a new car or truck this year, dead flat to last year, compared with 10.5% of the overall population of adults 18 years and older.
Nearly 34% of the higher-income households have become more budget conscious in the last six months, respondents told BIGresearch, compared with almost 41% of the general population.
Dow Takes A Plunge
Given the wealth-effect relationship between portfolio performance and spending, the near 8% drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average since the beginning of May could be weighing on the minds of the wealthy, according to Richard Hastings, macro and consumer strategist for Global Hunter Securities.
"The flash crash and the bear market that's been developing since the end of April is damaging to the spending trends in the upper-income universe," he said. "They're not really, really pulling in like they did in late 2008 but they will slow down."
Gallup's Jacobe says the rich will spend again soon, but cautiously. "I still think there's a lot of frugality fatigue," he said, "but that fear overwhelms them."
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