PSCU and Co-op Solutions Payments Reports Disclose Strong Holiday Spending Season
Updated: Jan 23
By Roy Urrico
Finopotamus aims to highlight white papers, surveys and reports that provide a glimpse as to what is taking place and/or impacting credit unions and other organizations in the financial services industry.
Highlighted here are two recent payments reports, from PSCU and Co-op Solutions, that reveal a robust holiday shopping season—along with slowing inflationary pressures – buoying the spending outlook for 2023.
St. Petersburg, Fla.-based payments credit union service organization (CUSO) PSCU in its January 2023 Payments Index reported the 2022 holiday shopping season concluded with consumer holiday spending trending upward. “Consumer confidence ended the year on a positive note, as inflationary pressures show signs of slowing, while continued interest rate hikes are positioning the economy for a cool-down period, as intended.” Within the January 2023 edition of its Payments Index, PSCU also presented the final installment of its annual three-part Deep Dive on holiday spending.
PSCU disclosed December’s growth rates finished slightly better than November’s growth rates for credit and debit cards. PSCU noted the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that 223,000 jobs were added for the month, the smallest monthly gain in two years and a sign that the job market appears to be losing momentum. However, the unemployment rate dropped to 3.5% in December, equaling the pre-pandemic low point of February 2020. Meanwhile, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) showed a decline by 0.1% for December, bringing the 12-month rate of inflation to 6.5%. The largest contributor to the decrease was gasoline, offsetting the increase in the housing sector.
PSCU also conveyed how the market is anticipating a 0.25% to 0.50% interest rate increase from the Federal Reserve, which will meet Jan. 31-Feb. 1, 2023. The Consumer Confidence Index increased sharply in December to 108.3 (1985=100), up following back-to-back monthly declines, while the New York Fed’s Survey of Consumer Expectations shows greater consumer optimism relative to inflation in the coming year.
The national average price per gallon of gasoline increased to $3.31 for the week ending Jan. 16, up from the same time last month but virtually flat year over year. As China retracts most of their COVID travel restrictions, there should be an increase in the worldwide demand for gasoline, which may ultimately affect domestic gas prices in the United States in 2023.
“During the fourth quarter, we saw our members’ spending increase as the number of transactions per card held flat, an indication that the industry increase in holiday spending could be attributed to higher prices – not just higher purchase volume and elevated consumer confidence. This holiday season, our members also spent more on travel and transportation than a year ago, with automobile rental, transportation and airline spend increasing more than 40% per transaction, with the highest increases on credit cards,” said Kate Rogers, vice president of digital payments and chief innovation officer at the $591 Champaign, Ill.-based University of Illinois Community Credit Union, in the PSCU Index report.
Rogers added, “As consumers have refocused their budgets on essential items to combat inflation, we also saw increases per transaction reflected in experiential data, with up to double-digit increases in utilities and car repairs.”
Some other key takeaways from the January report includes:
· Consumer spending growth on payment cards in December finished slightly better than November. Credit card growth results continued to deflate as the year progressed before an uptick in December, while debit card growth was mainly consistent for 2022 and lower than growth on credit cards. For December, credit purchases were up 6.2% and debit purchases were up 3.7% year over year, while credit purchases were up 15.2% and debit purchases were up 5.2% for the full year. Inflationary pressures contributed to growth in purchases outpacing growth in transactions for the full year. For 2022, growth in overall transactions was up 12.0% for credit and 3.1% for debit.
· Year-over-year growth in holiday spending for the goods sector improved in December as compared to November. Year-over-year growth in purchases for the overall goods sector was up 3.4% for credit and up 6.9% for debit in December. For the cumulative holiday period in the goods sector, growth in credit purchases was up 2% and growth in debit purchases was up 4.6%. Both Amazon and Walmart posted similar year-over-year results, with growth in credit purchases outpacing growth in debit purchases, while Target’s growth results were nearly flat compared to 2021.
· The December average credit card balance per active account was $2,917, up 7.1% (or $193) year over year. The credit card delinquency rate for December was 1.98%, marking the second straight month in which the difference when compared to the monthly pre-pandemic 2019 levels has been five basis points (November and December).
The Payment Trends Report for December 2022 from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.-based Co-op Solutions, which provides a financial technology ecosystem for credit unions, disclosed a strong holiday shopping season — along with emerging signs of what Co-op described as a gentle landing for the economy.
The report pointed out, as expected, the Federal Reserve raised interest rates by 50 basis points at the Federal Open Market Committee’s final meeting of the year in December. “The benchmark Fed Fund now sits within a targeted range of 4.25% to 4.50%, the highest level in 15 years. But economic trends are appearing that may convince the Fed to begin easing its aggressive rate-raising campaign in 2023.”
Co-op also noted inflation growth adjusted downward for the fifth straight month to an annualized rate of 7.1%; and job growth also slowed in December to 223,000, down from a 263,000 increase in November.
Meanwhile, a strong holiday shopping season helped U.S. retail sales during the critical November 1-December 24 period, up by 7.6% over the same period in 2021, without adjusting for inflation. Co-op reported similar results across its credit union client portfolios, which listed strong monthly spending growth across most major retail categories that Co-op uses including Amazon/bookstores, computers, department stores, discount stores and sport/recreation. Expected seasonal declines were seen in categories including campers/camping, education and golf courses. Overall credit and debit spending were up for the month by 6.2% and 6.3%, respectively.
Key spending trends being watched this month by Co-op include:
1. Amazon on the Rise
Since kicking off the holiday shopping season with a special Prime Day in October, Amazon has been showing consistent growth. “According to (Amazon), it experienced record-breaking sales numbers over the critical five-day period that began on Thanksgiving Day and ended on Cyber Monday, setting a torrid pace that continued right through December,” said Co-op.
Within Co-op’s client payment portfolios, the Amazon category recorded big month over month lifts in transaction volume of 38% in both credit and debit. And year over year, Amazon spending was up 13.8% in credit transaction volume and 9.1% in debit.
“Amazon’s strong results came despite many shoppers being frustrated with widespread delivery delays late in the season,” said Co-op Solutions Director Beth Phillips. “December’s severe storms impacted the delivery of many last-minute gift purchases.”
2. Grocery Spending Remains Flat
Coming off surprising declines in November, grocery spending showed only modest month-over-month growth in transaction volume, increasing by 6.5% in credit and 5.7% in debit. Transaction amounts were up significantly, however, reflecting the impact of inflation and larger purchases made per trip to the store due to the increase in entertaining at home in December. Year-over-year, grocery remained flat in debit, but grew by 37.3% in credit.
“Grocery purchasing was delayed this holiday season as consumers made plans later in the season,” said Co-op Solutions Senior Payments Advisor John Patton. “Additionally, consumers were also dealing with the ‘triple threat’ of illnesses that, in many cases, caused their holiday celebrations and plans to be delayed or rescheduled, and that affected what we normally expect to see in this category at this time of the year.”
3. Medical And Self-Care Increases
Medical expenditures also grew significantly, with increases of more than 11% in both credit and debit. “Once the cold weather hits and people head indoors, spending on healthcare purchases like pharmaceuticals, medical office visits and clinical services all start to rise,” said Patton. “This season, the public is dealing with a particularly challenging ‘triple-demic’ of respiratory illness, resulting in an above average number of hospital and doctor visits.”
The self-care category, which includes spending on feel-good services like spas, haircare and wellness items, also saw growth in December, according to Co-op, typical for this time of year as consumers attend holiday parties and other public celebrations.
Co-op in its payment trends report also recommended what credit unions should look to help members faced with rising interest rates and credit balances, and maybe looking to consolidate debt after a busy holiday shopping season. “Now is a great time to offer cardholders a low-rate balance transfer offer to support portfolio growth, attract new cardholders and support members’ financial wellness needs. It is also an opportune time to adjust credit lines to accommodate balance transfer offers, but also manage credit risk moving into the new year.”
Co-op also suggests, to keep credit union cards top of wallet throughout the year, encourage members to activate a flexible and generous loyalty program that rewards them for the types of purchases they make daily.