ADA, Okla.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Released today, the 4th Quarter 2019 LegalShield Law Index, a suite of leading indicators of the economic and financial status of U.S. households and small businesses, indicates that the consumer financial stress index is at an all-time low, suggesting that consumer confidence is likely to remain elevated in early 2020. For the past year, LegalShield’s quarterly forecasts have accurately forecast high overall consumer confidence levels, while noting some potential decline as seen in December 2019. Overall, consumer confidence will remain high with a low risk of recession in 2020. LegalShield has been measuring the demand for various legal services and providing its proprietary data for more than 15 years.
“Consumers ended 2019, and the decade, on a high note with the single biggest retail day on record on Saturday, December 21st and our proprietary measure of financial stress is at an all-time low,” said Scott Grissom, Senior Vice President and Chief Product Officer, LegalShield. “Throughout the year, LegalShield’s data has accurately shown that consumers were on solid footing. Our indices are currently showing that consumers will remain confident for at least the first quarter of 2020, while building activity should remain healthy.”
“However, LegalShield’s data, in combination with market conditions, show that existing home sales (including starter homes) have been especially sluggish, reflecting both low levels of supply and elevated home prices as reasons for not entering the market,” added Grissom.
For full LegalShield Law Index quarterly findings visit https://www.legalshield.com/law-index.
Consumer Financial Stress at All-Time Low
The LegalShield Financial Stress Index (CFSI) improved by 5.1 points in Q4 to 68.9, the lowest on record. A contributing factor remains the robust labor market — which has added 176,000 jobs per month on average in 2019 while maintaining the lowest unemployment levels in decades — and continues to strengthen U.S. consumers and drive confidence and spending. While somewhat weaker than the last few years, the 2019 holiday shopping season indicates that consumers remain active, with Bloomberg reporting that the final Saturday before Christmas was the biggest single day in U.S. retail history. Overall, consumers should remain on solid footing in the beginning of 2020.
Meanwhile, the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index remains elevated by historical standards, though it eased slightly in December to 126.5 and is essentially unchanged from a year ago. Consumers’ near-term financial outlook remains positive, as spending on durable goods (the spending category consumers tend to pull back on first in times of financial stress) expanded a healthy 13% in Q2 and 8.1% in Q3 (annualized). Although credit card debt remains close to an all-time high as of November, credit card delinquencies remain well below typical historical levels.
LegalShield Housing Activity Index Suggests Building Activity Will Remain Healthy in Early 2020
The LegalShield Housing Activity Index, a leading indicator of housing starts, fell 5.8 points to 111.9 in Q4, but is 1% above year-ago levels. Housing starts rose 3.2% to an annualized rate of 1.37 million in November, near a post-recession high and 14% above year-ago levels — a movement that is consistent with last quarter’s LegalShield forecast. Despite several supply-side headwinds (including shortages of labor and buildable lots) continuing to weigh on the industry, residential investment achieved an annualized growth rate of 4.6% in Q3 after six consecutive quarters of contraction, in part due to lower interest rates.
Although the LegalShield Housing Activity Index decreased in Q4, it remains elevated, suggesting that the recent improvement in housing activity should continue into the first half of 2020 if interest rates remain low, as expected. Additionally, homebuilders remain optimistic given strong demand for new homes, as the NAHB-Wells Fargo Housing Market Index reached a multi-decade high in December.
LegalShield Real Estate Index at lowest level in five years
The LegalShield Real Estate Index, a leading indicator of existing home sales, dropped 7 points to 95.9 in Q4, the lowest level in five years; signally purchasing activity will likely continue its lackluster pace and potentially decelerate in the coming months. Meanwhile, existing home sales decreased 1.7% in November to a 5.35 million annualized rate. Although 30-year fixed mortgage rates have held under 3.8% for nearly seven months, homebuying sentiment remains subdued. Given the preponderance of economic data combined with the latest LegalShield Real Estate Index reading, a significant improvement in existing home sales is unlikely in the coming months.
LegalShield Bankruptcy Index signals subdued bankruptcy activity over the next quarter
The LegalShield Bankruptcy Index, a forward-looking indicator of bankruptcy filings, edged up 0.3 points to 48.1 in Q4, holding near historically low levels. Meanwhile, bankruptcies fell 11% in Q4 and are down 7% compared to year-ago levels. Consistent with LegalShield data, consumers finished 2019 on a high note, and are poised to remain strong in early 2020.
LegalShield Foreclosure Index indicates that foreclosure activity is unlikely to increase in the early 2020
The LegalShield Foreclosure Index improved 1.4 points to 47.9 in Q4. As expected from recent movement in the Index, foreclosure starts edged down four basis points in Q3 to a 35-year low of 0.21%. Although housing affordability remains an issue in some parts of the housing markets, consumers continue to demonstrate excellent home-loan payment behavior.
The quarterly LegalShield Law Index reflects the demand for legal services among the company’s provider law firms in all 50 states. The Law Index is a suite of leading indicators of the economic and financial status of U.S. households and small businesses, including the LegalShield Foreclosure Index in addition to the Consumer Financial Stress Index, Housing Activity Index, Real Estate Index, and the Bankruptcy Index.
A trailblazer in the democratization of affordable access to legal protection, LegalShield is one of North America’s largest providers of online legal subscription plans covering more than 4.375 million people. Its IDShield identity theft solution for individuals and families has more than one million members. LegalShield and IDShield serve more than 141,000 businesses. In addition, over 40,000 companies offer LegalShield and IDShield plans to their employees as a voluntary benefit. Both legal and identity theft plans start for less than $25 per month.
LegalShield’s legal plans provide access to qualified law firms and their attorneys with an average of 22 years of experience in family matters, estate planning, financial and business issues, consumer protection, tax, real estate, benefits disputes and auto/driving issues. Unlike other legal plans or do-it-yourself online services, LegalShield has dedicated law firms in 50 states and all provinces and territories in Canada that members can access at a fraction of typical law firm hourly rates.
IDShield provides identity monitoring and restoration services and is the only identity theft protection company armed with a team of Licensed Private Investigators to restore a member’s identity.
For more information visit https://www.legalshield.com/law-index.