AP survey: Economists see no stock market bubble

By Christopher S. Rugaber

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, June 6 2013 2:00 p.m. MDT

— U.S. consumers will step up spending once the job market returns to full health, though not as much as before the Great Recession. In the 10 years through 2007, consumer spending, adjusted for inflation, grew at an average annual rate of 3.6 percent. Since the recession ended in 2009, it's grown at an average rate of just 2 percent. The job market would be considered healthy when unemployment falls between 5 percent and 6 percent. It's now 7.5 percent. On Friday, the government will issue the May jobs report. Employers are expected to have added 170,000 jobs. No change is expected in the unemployment rate.

— The world's biggest economic obstacle is deep spending cuts and shrinking economies among the 17 European countries that use the euro currency. Unemployment across the euro alliance hit a record 12.2 percent in April. The number of unemployed is on track to reach 20 million by year's end.

— The biggest threat to Americans retiring over the next 25 years is too little savings. This is a more significant factor than the likelihood of reduced Social Security benefits, high out-of-pocket costs for Medicare recipients or nursing home expenses.

The stock market's gains, along with higher home prices, have helped create a "wealth effect." That's when people's rising wealth emboldens them to spend more. Their increased spending benefits the economy because consumers drive about 70 percent of U.S. economic growth.

Such spending may be helping to prevent any drag from a Social Security tax increase that took effect Jan. 1. The tax increase has left someone earning $50,000 a year with about $1,000 less to spend this year. A household with two highly paid workers has up to $4,500 less.

Americans as a whole have kept spending despite the higher Social Security tax. Instead, they've saved less. Spending grew at a 3.4 percent annual rate in the January-March quarter, the fastest pace in more than two years. The national savings rate fell to 2.3 percent from 4.1 percent last year.

"Consumers show no basic cultural change, in contrast to the wave of frugality embraced following the Depression of the 1930s," says Lynn Reaser, an economist at Point Loma Nazarene University in California.

Average pay has trailed inflation since the recession officially ended four years ago. Yet as long as job growth remains steady, more people will have income. And Americans will spend much of that money, economists say.

With their confidence at its highest point since 2008, Webman says consumers aren't likely to cut back.

"If people feel better, the national pastime is shopping," Webman says.

Follow Chris Rugaber on Twitter at http://Twitter.com/ChrisRugaber