While Wall Street is a pretty upbeat place these days when it comes to the economy, there are still "bears" who have yet to catch sight of a recovery. Meredith Whitney, founder and CEO of Meredith Whitney Advisory Group, remains bearish, she says, because consumers are being shut out of the economy.
She says the economy has been pushed along by the government so far, but that there's just so much the government can do unless consumers begin to resume regular economic activity.
"I think they're out of bullets," Whitney said on business cable TV channel CNBC Tuesday.
The key to recovery, Whitney says, is the consumer, and consumers are still on the sidelines. And not completely by choice.
"Consumers are getting kicked out of the financial system," Whitney said.
The main reason for that, she said, is banks aren't lending to them. Despite being able to borrow at near-zero percent interest, banks are not taking that money and putting it back into the marketplace. The Federal Reserve said Monday that consumer lending dropped 1.7 percent on an annualized basis in October, the ninth straight monthly decline.
Consumers writing to ConsumerAffairs.com in the last year tend to back up the analyst's claims.
"I have constantly been refused credit by Chase, although I have done everything they have asked to receive a loan," Steven, of Long Beach, Calif., told ConsumerAffairs.com. "I have good credit and I've been in the import/export business as a company doing business with Chase for over 6 years, and have done millions of dollars of business with them and they refuse a me a basic business credit line?"
Over the summer, Chase closed thousands of credit card accounts it acquired from the acquisition of Washington Mutual. David, of Gilbert, Arizona, said his Chase account was closed and he only found out when he tried to use the card.
"I tried to charge $25 to the card and it was denied. When I called Chase they said it was due to my credit report," he told ConsumerAffairs.com.
Multiply these examples by millions, and you begin to see Whitney's point. The fact that she was the first to predict the collapse of the banking sector last year gives added weight to her words by investors.
"Kicked out of the system"
With consumer spending making up about 70 percent of gross domestic product, the inability of even credit-worthy consumers being able to be able to borrow could put a severe crimp in future growth.
"You're going to get a situation where you revert from a consumer standpoint, where those that had bank accounts for the first time, credit cards for the first time, homes for the first time get kicked out of the system and then fall prey to real predatory lenders," Whitney said.
Whitney said tax cuts can't stimulate demand enough in the short term, a heretical view on Wall Street. Instead, the analyst suggested the government should take "proactive" steps to put more money directly in consumers' pockets.
"To have so many Americans be kicked out of the financial system and the consequences both political and economic of that, it's a real issue," she said. "This has never happened before in this country."