The oil crash has done nothing for America

One of the world’s biggest payment companies thinks the monumental fall in crude oil prices is doing nothing for the American consumer.

Executives at Visa, which processed over $US64.9 billion in transactions on their networks last year, made it clear in their quarterly earnings conference call Thursday that US consumers’ savings at the pump are not translating into consumer spending.

Since the beginning of the oil price drop last June, gas prices have fallen significantly. According to the US Energy Information Administration, the average price of a gallon of unleaded gas on July 20 was $US2.66. Around one year ago, on July 21, 2014, the price was $US3.52 per gallon.

This collapse had many economists arguing that US consumer spending would boom as a result of these savings.

Fredgraph (11)FREDThe sharp rebound in gas prices may have stopped the collapse in oil prices from really being a boon to consumers.

But at least, as far as Visa has seen, this hasn’t materialised.

“Gasoline prices continue to have a significant negative impact, reducing growth in aggregate US payment volumes by approximately 3 percentage points,” Visa CFO Vasant Prabhu said on the company’s earnings conference call.

Not only is it impacting Visa directly, but the company said this is adding up to a more or less stagnant economy.

“We are hopeful, but not counting on an improvement in the US economy, but we see very little improvement with the US consumer in our numbers thus far, if any,” Visa CEO, Charlie Scharf, said.

Visa’s concerns are another piece of evidence that the expected trend just has not materialised this year the way economists had forecast. Although there was a brief spending bump, it was never sustained.

Additionally, a University of Michigan survey showed that throughout 2015, consumers have been convinced that there was a serious jump coming for gas prices, dampening their enthusiasm to go out and spend the savings from the pump. And even President Obama warned consumers at the beginning of the year that lower gas prices may be temporary.

Umich consumerUniversity of MichiganConsumer confidence has stalled out after surging early this year.

This fear of future higher prices, it seems, has simply kept consumers on the sideline, and prevented the economy from really taking off on the back of consumer spending as many had hoped.

Visa CFO Prabhu also said the company felt that the money being conserved at the pump was being funneled into savings accounts, a trend that has been backed up in various economic data reports.

“We continue to see the largest share of these savings going to debt repayment and stronger consumer balance sheet,” said Prabhu.

And so this increased saving, on some level, is fine and well for American consumers. There was a glut of consumer debt accumulated during the run-up to the housing and financial crisis, and much of what economists call the American “household balance sheet” needed to be repaired.

But just a few months ago, the collapse in gas prices was supposed to be the next big thing for the US economy.

Instead, it seems like nothing has happened.

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