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Tighten Belt: Americans Lower Expectations for Making Money

Squeezed on both sides by stagnant wages and rising prices, consumers believe the chances of bringing home more money one year from now are at their lowest in 25 years, according to analysis of survey data by Goldman Sachs.

Goldman’s economist Jan Hatzius looked at the University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters poll, which asks consumers whether they believe their family income will rise more than inflation in the next 12 months. Hatzius applied a six-month moving average to smooth out the data and found that wage pessimism is at its lowest in more than two decades.

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“Households are already very pessimistic about future real income growth,” wrote Goldman’s economist to clients. “A slowdown in job growth would presumably translate into a further deterioration in (expected and actual) real income growth. This would heighten the downside risks to our current forecast that real consumer spending will grow 2.5 percent to 3 percent over the next year and might call for another downward revision to our forecast for US GDP growth in 2011 and 2012.”

Real hourly wages have dropped 2.1 percent on an annualized basis over the past six months, a rate of decline not seen in 20 years, according to Goldman. This analysis is backed up by the other most-watched consumer survey from the Conference Board, which indicated earlier this week that the proportion of consumers expecting their incomes to increase was below 15 percent in May.

“I am much more concerned that the second half resurgence we all expect never arrives and by early 2012 we are in a recession,” said Joe Terranova, chief market strategist for Virtus Investment Partners and a ‘Fast Money’ trader.

Stocks are sliding in June ahead of the monthly jobs report released on Friday. Economists have slashed the number of jobs they believe were added last month as a string of recent economic data have pointed to a slowdown. The 10-year Treasury yield broke below 3 percent Wednesday as investors bought bonds as a safehaven in case of the slowing economy.

The fact that income expectations are so low, makes the jobs outlook that much more important, argues Goldman and other investors. These same surveys show that consumers are not nearly as pessimistic about job growth. So once enthusiasm on the labor front is dented at all, then all aspects of consumer confidence are lost.

“The labor market is particularly important because household finances currently seem even more dependent on job growth than they are normally,” said Hatzius.

A typical recovery pattern goes like this: stock market bottoms, economic growth bottoms and then hiring and wage increases return. What’s unique and scary about this recovery is that the last piece of the recovery is not there.

In the 2001 recession, the country lost 2 percent of jobs from peak employment and then made that back in a 48- month cycle, according to data from money management firm Trutina Financial. In 1990, the jobs lost during the recession were recovered in 30 months.

Right now, about 38 months from peak employment during the housing boom, there are still six percent fewer jobs out there. Making up that amount of jobs in 10 months or less would be unprecedented, if not impossible.

“The crawl out of this economic ditch is going to be long and slow,” said Patty Edwards, chief investment officer at Trutina. “Even if they’re employed, many consumers aren’t earnings what they were two years ago, either because they’re in lower-paying jobs or not getting as many hours.”

For the best market insight, catch 'Fast Money' each night at 5pm ET, and the ‘Halftime Report’ each afternoon at 12:30 ET on CNBC.


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Trader disclosure: On June 2, 2011, the following stocks and commodities mentioned or intended to be mentioned on CNBC’s “Fast Money” were owned by “Fast Money” traders; Terranova owns (XOM); Terranova owns (KSS); Terranova owns (CVI); Terranova owns (OXY); Terranova owns (TM); Terranova owns (BJ); Terranova owns (DIS); Terranova owns (PFE); Terranova owns (V); Terranova owns (HPQ); Terranova owns (FLX); Terranova owns (JPM); Terranova owns (MCD); Terranova owns (PEP);Terranova owns (VRTS); Terranova is short (DELL); Grasso owns (AKS); Grasso owns (AMD); Grasso owns (ASTM); Grasso owns (BA); Grasso owns (BAC); Grasso owns (C); Grasso owns (D); Grasso owns (HOV); Grasso owns (JPM); Grasso owns (LIT); Grasso owns (LPX); Grasso owns (MHY); Grasso owns (NDAQ); Grasso owns (PFE); Grasso owns (PRST); Adami owns (AGU); Adami owns (C); Adami owns (INTC); Adami owns (GS); Adami owns (MSFT); Adami owns (NUE); Adami owns (BTU)

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