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Late Card Payments Up in 2nd Quarter

From Times Wire Services

A record number of Americans delayed making credit card payments in the second quarter as rising gasoline prices made it tougher for many people to pay their bills, a survey released Wednesday showed.

A separate report showed new orders for big-ticket manufactured products rose in August at the fastest pace in three months, suggesting that American factories were not headed for another slump.

In its report on credit card delinquencies, the American Bankers Assn. said the proportion of card accounts 30 days or more past due rose to 4.81% from 4.76% in the first quarter. The latter number was revised upward from 4.03%.

“Gas is the driving factor,” said James Chessen, the banker group’s chief economist. “For those already struggling to meet their financial obligations, it has been one more strain.”

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The data appear to contrast with a recent Federal Reserve survey of the 100 largest U.S. banks, showing the delinquency rate rising to just 3.7% from 3.68%, a 10-year low.

“I’m not sure it’s time to ring the alarm bells just yet,” said Travis Plunkett, legislative director for the Consumer Federation of America. Over the last few years, especially since the 2001 terrorist attacks, consumers have been more cautious in taking on new debt, he said.

Chessen said delinquencies were unlikely to fall in the third quarter because interest rates were still rising, and gasoline prices had surged.

The effect of hurricanes Katrina and Rita should begin to be reflected in the fourth quarter, “but we don’t know the offsetting effects of insurance, disaster relief payments or small-business loans,” he said.

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As for the manufacturing sector, the Commerce Department said orders for durable goods -- items expected to last at least three years -- jumped 3.3% after falling 5.3% in July. Analysts had been expecting a rebound, but the rise was better than the 0.8% advance they had forecast.

The big drop in July had raised concerns that the manufacturing sector, the hardest hit sector in the 2001 recession, could be in danger of falling into another slump.

But analysts took heart from not only the size of the rebound but also the fact that it covered a number of key categories.

“The really good news is that the strength is broad-based, with hefty gains in metals, computers, electricals, machinery and aircraft,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, a consulting firm in Valhalla, N.Y.

The overall gain in durable-good orders included a 1.4% increase in demand for motor vehicles and airplanes. Excluding that sector, orders climbed 4.2%, the biggest increase excluding transportation in 17 months.

Orders for motor vehicles and parts rose 0.8% after a 1% gain in July, an increase that was driven by strong sales fueled by attractive incentive offers. Orders for commercial aircraft shot up 9.4% in August, while orders for military aircraft were up 15%.

Outside of transportation, strong sectors included computers and other electronics, for which orders climbed 5.5%, and primary metals, orders for which were up 9.2%.


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