U.S. consumers buoy global economy, while Canadians face debt

December 9, 2019 | Last updated on December 9, 2019
2 min read

Divergent job reports from Canada and the U.S. on Friday may suggest different paths for consumers on either side of the border. While that doesn’t bode well for the Canadian economy, a report from Richardson GMP says, the American consumer is the one with the world on its shoulders.

The U.S. consumer represents roughly 20% of the global economy, the firm’s weekly Market Ethos report said, and remains “in very good shape.” Debt to disposable income exceeded 140% before the last recession but now sits below 100%.

“From a balance sheet perspective, U.S. consumers are in their best shape in decades,” the report said.

By contrast, Canadians owed roughly $1.77 in credit market debt for every dollar of household disposable income in the second quarter of this year. Richardson GMP noted this is high even compared to the precarious position south of border prior to the financial crisis.

And while the U.S. economy added 266,000 jobs in November, Canada posted its biggest monthly drop since the financial crisis, shedding 71,200 positions.

Consumer insolvencies are also up 9.2% year over year in Canada, as of October, the report said. “Granted this is from a low base, but with the employment situation having deteriorated rather materially, this could lead to a sharper increase,” the report said.

Richardson GMP pointed to Canadian banks’ Q4 results, which reflected the credit situation with all banks reporting higher provisions for credit losses.

“The economic mood in Canada has soured recently, and the increasingly defensive posturing by local banks has us believing that the trend heading into 2020 will be towards tighter lending standards, which could further constrain the consumer,” the report said.

Fortunately, there’s still the American consumer, whom the report called the global economy’s “last person standing.”

“The good news is that while the Canadian consumer is at risk, it’s the U.S.consumer that matters most for the global economy,” the report said.

And while they’re “holding the line,” Richardson GMP points to indicators such as job openings and consumer confidence to watch in the coming months.