Tuesday, April 20, 2021

New York Fed: "What Is behind the Global Jump in Personal Saving during the Pandemic?"

I'm starting to believe that people don't trust their governments as much as they did in the before-times and desire a sliver more financial security.

From the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's Liberty Street Economics blog, April 14:

Household saving has soared in the United States and other high-income countries during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite widespread declines in wages and other private income streams. This post highlights the role of fiscal policy in driving the saving boom, through stepped-up social benefits and other income support measures. Indeed, in the United States, Japan, and Canada, government assistance has pushed household income above its pre-pandemic trajectory. We argue that the larger scale of government assistance in these countries helps explain why saving in these countries has risen more strongly than in the euro area. Going forward, how freely households spend out of their newly accumulated savings will be a key factor determining the strength of economic recoveries.

The pandemic sent consumer spending into retreat, helping drive up saving
Consumer spending plummeted in the United States and other high-income economies with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. The drop was sharpest in the second quarter of 2020, reflecting the strict lockdowns then in place. Spending picked up over the second half of the year, but the recovery was only partial. Consumption was still well below pre-pandemic levels at year-end.

A simple accounting identity can help clarify how changes in spending feed into saving. Since income is either spent or saved, changes in income must be matched by changes in spending and saving.

Change in Income = Change in Consumption + Change in Saving

If income is stagnant, a decline in consumption will result in an equal increase in saving. If income is growing, the same decline in consumption will translate into a larger increase in saving.

The chart below shows how this relationship has played out during the pandemic for the largest high-income economies: the United States, the euro area, Japan, the United Kingdom, and Canada. The triangles represent the percent change in personal disposable income—income after taxes and net transfers—comparing the first three quarters of 2020 with the first three quarters of 2019. The bars show how these changes in disposable income map into changes in consumption and saving, consistent with the identity above.

What Is behind the Global Jump in Personal Saving during the Pandemic?

While consumer spending weakened in all these economies, the magnitude of declines varied widely. U.S. spending held up best, dropping by the equivalent of 3 percent of pre-pandemic personal income. Spending in the United Kingdom fell the most, dropping by nearly 12 percent. Spending elsewhere was down 6 to 7 percent. 

Household saving, in contrast, was up across the board, with increases ranging from 7 percent of pre-pandemic income in the euro area to 16½ percent in Canada. The counterparts to this increase varied widely. In the euro area and the United Kingdom, income stagnated, and higher saving came entirely from declines in consumption. In the United States and Canada, income grew strongly, and saving rose by more than twice the decline in consumption. In Japan, the increase in saving came about equally from lower consumption and new income....

....MUCH MORE, leading to the question, "will consumers spend down 'excess savings'?"