Will Americans’ pandemic savings stash keep the economy rolling?

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An obvious concern is high inflation

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to pass President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” programme will lead to further retrenchment.

That matters in trying to assess the potential impact of excess savings. The wealthy typically spend a low share of their incomes. The extra cash sitting in their hands is more likely to go towards investment accounts than grocery purchases. A final concern is high inflation. That eats into both wealth and incomes. Adjusted for rising prices, wage growth in America has turned sharply negative over the past half-year. Similarly, the real value of savings looks a bit less impressive given the reduction in purchasing power.

This may already be happening. Consumer borrowing soared in November by $40bn, the most on record, as credit-card usage soared. Some observers saw that as a sign that households were strapped for cash. Alex Lin of Bank of America disagrees. “An increase in credit-card spending can be a function of greater re-engagement in the economy,” he says. “Americans like to use their credit cards to rack up points for travel or restaurants, and that is not necessarily a sign of danger.

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