American Shoppers Are Alive; Sort Of

 | Apr 20, 2017 | 8:30 AM EDT
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Thanks for making it really easy for economists, America Express (AXP) .

The struggling credit card company's first quarter didn't fall off a cliff. Spending by members surged 14% from the prior year, excluding the impact of the loss of business from Costco (COST) . That number is the byproduct of American Express spending a record $1.2 billion in the fourth quarter on marketing and promotional costs to drum up business post Costco. More rewards, more spending, a pretty simple equation.

But at the end of the day, people wouldn't be taking American Express up on those offers it they weren't feeling good about their finances. With the job market doing well and stocks having had a big run, confidence has people out there spending, probably much stronger than indicated in shares of dying retailer Sears (SHLD) or challenged retailer J.C. Penney (JCP)

For the first time since the financial crisis of 2008, credit card debt hit $1 trillion last year, the Federal Reserve said recently. And this isn't just an American Express thing. 

Still can't believe I'm going to have a daughter!! ���� Went shopping for baby girl yesterday!! New vlog up ��

— Piper De Young (@theblushedlife) April 15, 2017

Bank of America (BAC) saw total debit and credit card spending rise 5% in the first quarter. Wells Fargo's (WFC) debit card and credit card purchase volume increased 4% and 3%, respectively, year over year. 

As for where people are spending their money, it's for damn sure not at the malls -- unless that mall has a Dave & Busters (PLAY) attached to it. Or, said mall has a Carnival Cruise Line (CCL) ship docked out back waiting to set sail for Bermuda.

U.S. households' entertainment spending increased 4.5% in the 12 months ending June 2016, according to a semiannual report on consumer expenditures throughout major categories revealed Wednesday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Spending on "food away from home", namely restaurants, more than doubled the rate of growth in food at home. Apparel and services spending plunged 4.8%. 

People continue to pay for experiences, which goes a long way to explain why shares of the aforementioned Carnival and Dave & Busters have tacked on 12% and 9%, respectively, so far this year.

Read This Or Lose Out

Basically, people hate self-driving cars: A new study of 8,100 drivers in the U.S. by J.D. Power designed to determine people's attitudes about autonomous cars found more people being skeptical of self driving technology than last year. 

The number of people born between 1995 and 2004 who said they "definitely would not" trust self-driving technology rose by 11 percentage points to 22%. Among Baby Boomers, 81% said they "definitely" or "probably" would not trust self-driving technology.

That's a memo to automakers trying to jam this technology down our throats. Having said that, General Motors (GM) new "super cruise" feature (seen below) in its latest Cadillac is pretty cool. 

About North Korea's show of force: North Korean monitoring service 38 North says satellite images from April 16 show what appears to be "three volleyball games underway at different locations throughout" at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, reports CNN. No word on if North Korea's supreme leader Kim Jong-un was on the court trying to shed some pounds. 

Kim Jong-un is fade goals

— Zak White (@ZakWhiteDJ) April 20, 2017
And in today's absurd airline news: Nearly 100 American Airlines  (AAL)  pilots have surfaced with complaints of rashes, itching, and other symptoms, stemming from their new uniforms, reports Bloomberg. Back in December, some 1,600 staff complained about the new uniforms. 
The penny-pinching executives at American Airlines have refused to recall the uniforms, which were sent out to 70,000 employees. 
Hope Apple has some smart glasses in development: "20 or 30 years from now, I predict that instead of carrying stylish smartphones everywhere, we'll wear stylish glasses. Those glasses will offer VR, AR and everything in between and we'll use them all day," said Michael Abrash, the chief scientist of Facebook's (FB) Oculus Research at the tech company's conference
So about that Apple (AAPL) iPhone 8 supercycle? 
Happy weed smoking day: Thursday marks a weed smoker's favorite holiday, 4/20. Search-and-discover app service Foursquare has revealed in a new study that foot traffic at certain businesses in the first four states to legalize marijuana for recreational use spiked in the years following legalization, especially on the unofficial weed-toking holiday April 20.

"Consumers may be swapping casual drinks at home with cannabis, but our data implies that a night on the couch cannot be replaced by cocktails with friends, buckets of beer or 10 big-screen TVs for Sunday football," Foursquare said.

TheStreet runs down the businesses benefiting the most.

Jim Cramer and the AAP team holds positions in Wells Fargo, Apple and Facebook for their Action Alerts PLUS Charitable Trust Portfolio. Want to be alerted before Cramer buys or sells WFC, AAPL, and FB? Learn more now.

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