U.S. – They’re skint, they’re frugal, get used to it
Good session on the “Frugal American,” an as yet undiscovered species that is coming to a global economy near you.
You know the general idea, a decade or so of living beyond their means, borrowing money against their rising house values to finance consumption is coming to a grinding halt. That’s called a recession, but how long will this frugal thing last?
Ian Davis, the MD from consultants McKinsey & Co was blunt:
“Americans have no option but to be relatively more frugal over the next 10-20 years.” This is irrespective of the crisis and is a structural issue due to overspending in the past and the huge host of baby boomers who are now moving into what they fondly hope will be their retirement years. Old people buy fewer ipods and ski boots apparently, and are less likely to remodel their kitchens and bathrooms. That is a problem for the global economy.
So who is going to pick up the ball on consumption? From the sound of the panel, it looks like some kid took the ball and went home. China was candidate one, but even if consumption increased there, as it will, its not likely to become the next America, nor should it be.
“We have to live with the frugal American. Think about how much wealth has been lost, half of world market cap” said Zhu Min, executive vice president of the Bank of China.
“You don’t have wealth, you don’t have liquidity, how do you come back? After a very deep adjustment … the whole world will be a frugal world.”
The understanding I came away with is that it is 1) unclear what the new model will be, who will produce what and who will consume what, and 2) the frugal countries like Germany, Japan and China face their own very stern tests as their business models were predicated on consumption in the English-speaking world.
James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.