Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Gettin' Happy

and spending money....

Survey Finds the Rich Returning to Familiar Spending Habits

A year after the Lehman Bros. collapse sent financial markets and consumer spending reeling, conspicuous consumption isn't dead after all among the 23.9 million U.S. households with incomes of at least $100,000.

Of course, it's still hurting: The 2009 Ipsos Mendelsohn survey of the affluent, released a year to the day of the Lehman collapse, finds consumers in that income bracket planning less overseas travel than in 2008 (down 10 percent); fewer are planning on buying new cars (down 18 percent); and are less inclined to invest in securities (down 5 percent).

But even so, they are planning on doing all those things. The survey projects that someone in 12.2 million of wealthy households will journey outside the U.S. this year; 6.3 million will buy or lease new cars, trucks or SUVs; and 13.9 million will invest in stocks or mutual funds.

Feelings of optimism
Bob Shullman, president of Ipsos Mendelsohn, prefers a glass-full approach, noting that the vast majority of the affluent are still planning to buy big-ticket items. The Ipsos Mendelsohn affluent-tracking "barometer" also finds significant increase in the percentage of the wealthy feeling optimistic about the U.S. economy in the latest poll ending Sept. 1: 54 percent vs. 50 percent in April and July.

Despite pullbacks on spending plans in many big-ticket categories, the number of affluent individuals planning to marry, get engaged, have children or retire remained unchanged from 2008 to 2009. It takes more than a recession -- something more like the Great Depression -- to change those numbers, Mr. Shullman said.

The number of affluent households in which someone plans to start a business, however, dropped around 24 percent to 1.7 million in 2009 from 2008. There are other numbers that aren't pretty -- and arguably fewer of the affluent will be as well -- what with a 40 percent decline in the number planning cosmetic surgery this year compared to last, down to around 600,000.

They could be saving up for surgery by shopping at Costco, which served 44.1 percent of U.S. affluent households at some point in the past year, up 2.8 points. The affluent are also shopping at Walmart, but the percentage of the six-figure-plus crowd that shopped at the chain in the past year was actually down slightly from 2008, 0.6 points to 79.6 percent. Target and department stores all experienced much bigger declines.

Aiding the recovery
Mr. Shullman said if a recovery is to come, particularly in consumer spending, it will have to come from households making $100,000 or more. They may represent only 20 percent of U.S. households, but they control more than half of all income and are far less likely than everyone else to be restrained by tight credit markets.

"On average, the affluent are 2.6 times more likely to buy everything, and when they do, they spend 3.7 times more," Mr. Shullman said. "So I feel better looking at (the data) we're seeing now, than I would have three or four months ago."

(Source: AdAge.com, 09/15/09)

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