One chart explains why CEOs across America think the economy stinks

Add Target to the list.

Over the weekend, Bob Bryan highlighted the chorus of CEOs from some of America’s biggest companies that think the economy is just so-so, or even worse.

Companies ranging from BlackRock to Starbucks to McDonald’s issued cautious outlooks on consumers during second quarter earnings season. And then on Wednesday, Target said it is planning for a “challenging environment in the back half of the year.”

Target also reported same-store sales that fell 1.1% in the second quarter, the first drop in this measure since the first quarter of 2014. Target shares fell as much as 6% in early trading on Wednesday.

In the wake of last week’s July retail sales report — which showed no increase in spending over the prior month — a downbeat view from a retailer like Target shouldn’t come as a complete surprise.

The following chart, which comes to us from Deutsche Bank’s Torsten Sløk, shows that in the wake of the financial crisis, traditional retailers aren’t just fighting habit-changing companies like Amazon but an entire generation of scarred consumers who really just remember one thing: the financial crisis.

The headline on the chart indicates that a preference for saving presents something like a puzzle for the economy. And indeed, economists would expect wealthier, employed consumers to spend rather than save.

But it seems clear, almost a decade after the financial crisis, that this event changed consumers’ view on what they do and don’t need to be prepared for. Namely: the worst.

And this impact is perhaps no more clearly seen that in the preference among young people to save rather than spend their money, as we see in this table from Sløk.

This is not to say, however, that indications are consumers have begun seizing up and the economy is grinding to a halt.

The first reading on economic growth in the second quarter showed that overall consumer spending is still strong with real personal consumption expenditures rising 4.2%, one of the fastest clips since the crisis.

So it isn’t, then, that consumers don’t want to spend money, or can’t spend money, or aren’t spending money, but that the psychology around where and when and how people spend money is changing in a way that is puzzling corporate America.

Consumers are spending money in new places and on new things — Uber, Spotify memberships, and Netflix — instead of at malls.

And when asked if they’d like to keep spending more money, it seems consumers are saying no. Which is perhaps the biggest challenge of all.

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