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While many investors are fretting over bad debts in the oil patch, Jim Cramer is worried about something else. Why the heck aren't lower oil prices translating into consumer spending?
There has not been a pickup in restaurant spending, and retail has not had a great holiday season. It seems that all restaurants numbers have been subpar, with exception of McDonald's.
Cramer traced the consumer frugality down to four reasons. First, people don't believe that the lower price of gasoline is sustainable. They have been fooled so many times from the roller coaster of gas prices, they think that it could go back to $4 a gallon at any moment.
Second, many people have been burned by the Great Recession. That time period changed the way people spend in the U.S., and they now hate debt, are cheap, buying more store brands. They like to save money and know that there is a sense that if they go bankrupt, they cannot be forgiven.
Read more from Mad Money with Jim Cramer
Additionally, Cramer thinks the expense structure in the U.S. is worse than expected. There have been far fewer homes and apartments built than he thought there would be by now, and he attributed it to the fact that credit is so tight that only rich individuals and companies can even afford to build living spaces. As a result, rent prices have climbed higher because landlords know they can get away with it.
"I am always shocked at the many buildings I look at — because I love real estate — that are rentals, and the rents seem insane," Cramer said.
The final reason why oil prices haven't trickled into consumer spending is health care. Cramer thinks there too little competition among insurance companies, and the Affordable Care Act is unaffordable for everyone except those with no money.
Cramer keeps waiting for corporations to pick up the windfall from energy prices, but it just isn't happening. He could not name a single company that has received the benefit from lower crude costs.
"So, with the price of oil in the mid-$30s, we are stuck with the negative side of the ledger and no noticeable positives," Cramer said.
The money saved on energy costs is not being spent on the consumer level. It is not being saved on corporate profits. Cramer's concern is that lower energy savings are not working through the system the way he thought they would — and that is a huge negative for the economy, and what he expected by now.