Amid signs of cracks in how Americans feel about the economy, Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone told CNBC on Wednesday that he sees extreme wariness among consumers.
"The consumer is more cautious now than I've ever seen them," the billionaire said in a "Squawk Box" interview, because the growth in jobs and uptick in wages are not robust enough.
The government said last week the U.S. economy created a much greater-than-expected 321,000 nonfarm jobs in November, while wage growth and average hourly earnings both increased slightly.
Based on those numbers though, Langone said consumers are not going to spend their money as freely as they might otherwise. "We have to do something to get the lower income people to the party. It isn't just jobs. It's pay," he added.
Despite expectations that lower oil and cheaper gasoline prices would lead to stronger consumer confidence, the November index from the Conference Board showed a decline.
The holiday shopping season also got off to a slow start, with sales from Thanksgiving, Black Friday and that weekend dropping 11 percent, according to the National Retail Federation. While some analysts doubted the numbers were that bad, Cyber Monday sales grew at a slower pace than last year, a report by IBM Digital Analytics showed.
But the NRF told The New York Times that lower gas prices and better job prospects may be giving consumers more confidence to shop later and not rush for early bargains.
Perhaps that's why, despite the slow start, the CNBC All-America Economic Survey showed that Americans plan to spend more on gifts this Christmas than in any holiday season in the past five years.
But Langone is not buying it. "We're going to have a very tepid [economic] recovery," with the expected modest increase in interest rates by the Federal Reserve next year having little impact either way.