Meridian Star

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October 7, 2013

Families hoard cash 5 years after crisis

(Continued)

NEW YORK —

— SPENDING SLUMP: To cut debt and save more, people have reined in their spending. Adjusting for inflation, global consumer spending rose 1.6 percent a year during the five years after the crisis, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers, an accounting and consulting firm. That was about half the growth rate before the crisis and only slightly more than the annual growth in population during those years.

Consumer spending is critically important because it accounts for more than 60 percent of GDP.

— DEVELOPING WORLD NOT HELPING ENOUGH: When the financial crisis hit, the major developed countries looked to the developing world to take over in powering global growth. The four big developing countries — Brazil, Russia, India and China — recovered quickly from the crisis. But the potential of the BRIC countries, as they are known, was overrated. Although they have 80 percent of the people, they accounted for only 22 percent of consumer spending in the 10 biggest countries last year, according to Haver Analytics, a research firm. This year, their economies are stumbling.

Consumers around the world will eventually shake their fears, of course, and loosen the hold on their money. But few economists expect them to snap back to their old ways.

One reason is that the boom years that preceded the financial crisis were fueled by families taking on enormous debt, experts now realize, not by healthy wage gains. No one expects a repeat of those excesses.

More importantly, economists cite psychological "scarring," a fear of losing money that grips people during a period of collapsing jobs, incomes and wealth, then doesn't let go, even when better times return. Think of Americans who suffered through the Great Depression and stayed frugal for decades.

Although not on a level with the Depression, some economists think the psychological blow of the financial crisis was severe enough that households won't increase their borrowing and spending to what would be considered normal levels for another five years or longer.

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