Movie Tickets and New Homes: Why They Are Both in Trouble

The Untold Story of the Pinned-Down U.S. ConsumerIn 2013, consumer spending accounted for 67% of U.S. gross domestic product. (Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis web site, last accessed April 2, 2014.) It’s plain and simple: economic growth cannot be achieved unless consumers are spending.

And unfortunately, higher prices and lower discretionary spending are putting the brakes on consumer spending here in 2014.

The Motion Picture Association of America says box office sales in the U.S. economy came in at $10.9 billion in 2013—up only one percent from 2012 and up just three percent from 2009. But here comes the kicker: the sales increase was due to higher ticket prices. The number of tickets sold for Hollywood movies in 2013 was down 1.5% from 2012 and six percent from 2009! (Source: Motion Picture Association of America, Inc., March 25, 2014.)

And the U.S. housing market is getting into trouble, too, as consumer spending pulls back. The chart below is of new-home sales in the U.S. economy from the spring of 2012 until now.

Houses Sold - New One Family ChartChart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com

You will quickly see from the chart that new-home sales in the U.S. economy peaked in late 2012/early 2013 and have come down since. Existing-home sales are also under stress and well below their post-Credit Crisis peak.

Why does the housing market matter? When homebuyers move into their new homes, they buy things like lawnmowers, appliances, furniture, and more. With home sales declining, it suggests consumer spending on these items will not be robust in 2014.

Dear reader, consumer spending patterns in the U.S. economy show troubling trends in the making. Sure, I talked today about how movie tickets and home sales are soft, but sales at the major American retailers (as I have recently written) are also very, very soft.

Each day, as I dig into how consumers are doing, it becomes evident they are struggling here in 2014. They are pinned down and don’t really have much left to spend or much room to borrow. And if consumer spending is stalling (which means the economy is growing by less), how can the stock market keep going up? The simple answer is: it won’t for much longer.