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Yesterday, eBay had some scary things to say about the outlook for consumer spending in its conference call on Q3 earnings results.
"The reality is the thing that's caused the most angst is what we believe is a dramatically decelerating U.S. e-commerce growth rate," said eBay CFO Bob Swan on the call. "When we came into the third quarter, we looked at a stable U.S. market, and lo and behold, in a relatively short period of time, we've seen a pretty rapid deceleration in the market."
Unfortunately, eBay management doesn't see much improvement headed into the all-important fourth quarter, during which holiday shopping takes place.
"We haven't really seen any more positive signs in October than what we experienced through the latter part of the third quarter in the U.S.," said Swan. "It's hard to be really confident when lots of the fundamentals that we're reading about are not all that positive. That being said, we're not expecting really any improvement in the fourth quarter from what we've experienced for the last eight to 10 weeks."
While eBay had bad news in its earnings report, American Express had relatively good news: income from its U.S. credit card business was up 12% in Q3 from a year earlier.
Meanwhile, American Express isn't seeing any sort of deterioration in consumer spending, even as the government shutdown that finally ended today has weighed on sentiment over the past two weeks.
This exchange from the company's earnings conference call sums it up (emphasis added):
Ryan Nash - Goldman Sachs: Just a follow-up on with your comments pertaining to the government shutdown. I guess, first, can you give us a sense of how spend volumes progressed during the quarter and while you haven't seen a direct impact, did you see corporate spend slowing as the shutdown approached?
Jeffrey C. Campbell - EVP and CFO: Well, a couple of comments Ryan. One thing even in three months here I've learned to be a little cautious about it attaching too much significance to daily or weekly trends because they are volatile. With that caveat, what I would tell you is that we are certainly pleased with the modest sequential improvement in our billed business, went from 8% to 9% on an FX-adjusted basis and really if I take the time period from the beginning of the quarter on July 1 really to the most recent days there is no particular trends within that period between the beginning of the quarter and a couple of days ago that show any meaningful variance from that overall sequential trend. So, there is just nothing in our data that would support any particular impact in – amongst our customer base and what they spend money on from the economic turmoil. But boy I don't want to in any way draw a conclusion that the uncertainty being created in DC if it continues isn't eventually going to cause a real challenge economically for us and for many people.
As Nick Montoya put it in a tweet, the relative outlooks from eBay and American Express management are "telling of the high-low split in U.S. consumer strength."
This notion reinforces the results of a survey of 2,000 U.S. consumers by Goldman Sachs, the results of which were published earlier this week.
"The total number of consumers who said they spent more in the past three months did tick up in our 3Q survey," said Goldman analysts Michael Kelter, Ivan Holman, and Harsh Aneja in the report. "However, the bifurcation of high vs. low-mid income consumers is clearly evident. Consumers in $90,000+ households reported an increase in spending in 3Q vs. 2Q, while consumers in under-$50,000 households reported a decrease in spending this quarter. "
Meanwhile, the divergence in economic optimism between the two groups is the widest in the history of Goldman's survey, which dates back to 2005.
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