There was much focus on the U.S. consumer at American Securitization Forum's (ASF) ASF 2012 held in Las Vegas.
Analyzing consumer metrics is key for investors to understand the value of their investments and secondary trades.
At the Overview of the Consumer Economy panel, Equifax Chief Economist Amy Crews Cutts said that consumer sentiment is down for several reasons, although more recently there has been a change in consumer behavior implying something more like optimism.
Crews Cutts shared the panel with Christopher Flanagan, head of securitized product research at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
Consumers are continuing to deleverage, especially with respect to mortgage credit, which is partly determined by the fact that access to credit is still very tight, Crews Cutts said. "Over the past few months, we've seen a rise in non-mortgage consumer debt from its recession low, but it remains well below the pre-recession peak and both demand and supply of new credit remain subdued," she said. In essence, "consumers are not pushing it."
For instance, in the case of the sluggish rate of household formation, underemployment can be part of the factor. However, Crews Cutts said that the decline in this area actually started in 2005 so it might not be directly related to the flailing economy.
On the mortgage front, home mortgage outstanding balances including first liens and home equity loans have declined to $1 trillion.