The American consumer has been cited as a source of strength in what’s been a slowing global economy.
However, Roger Hochschild, President and COO of credit card giant Discover, doesn’t quite see it that way.
“I would not sort of call a robust comeback for the US consumer at his point,” said Hochschild in the company’s quarterly earnings call Thursday.
He warned that consumer spending for the end of 2015 would be weak.
“I think the — consumer spending in general is reasonably soft,” said Hochschild. “As we get out, go out talking to our merchant partners, I’m not sure anyone is expecting a blowout holiday season.”
This bearish outlook for the American consumer, does have some data to support it. RetailNext, which analyses holiday sales trends, said that it expects the slowest year-over-year growth since 2009.
Also, the Gallup Economic Confidence Index remains in negative levels, with 57% of Americans saying that economic conditions are getting worse.
This is concerning for Discover, as fewer retail sales translate to lower credit card interest income and transaction fees. According to Discover’s filing accompanying the call, transaction processing revenue which occurs at the point of sale for items has declined for 4 straight quarters and is down 11% from 2014 year-to-date.
Additionally, one of Discover’s major competitors, American Express, reported a weak quarter.
To be clear, Hochschild’s view isn’t a reflection of the consensus. For one, Gallup’s consumer holiday spending intentions shows Americans expect to spend the most on gifts since 2007.
Secondly, Dunkin’ Brands CEO Nigel Travis had the opposite view.
“I mean to be honest, I think the consumer is actually doing pretty well overall, look at car sales, look at spending, look at all the analysis that came out in the JPMorgan Chase numbers two weeks ago,” said Travis in the company’s own earnings call Thursday. “I think the consumer is in a relatively good place.”
According to a study from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, about 17% of all consumer transactions were completed on credit cards, whereas 40% were done with cash and 25% with debit cards. So it’s possible that Hochschild just doesn’t have the whole picture.
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