NEW YORK ( Stockpickr) -- Economists think the U.S. economy is poised for its strongest year in half a decade in 2013, thanks in large part to a solid upturn in consumer spending. Why are they optimistic? Because household finances are finally in good shape.
According to the Federal Reserve, consumers now use 15.7% of their monthly take home pay on mortgages, car loans and other forms of debt. You'd have to go back 30 years to find such a low reading. That's the result of a steady pay down in consumer debt over the past half decade.
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And what do U.S. consumers do when they feel flush? They go shopping.
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Spending at department stores has been on the mend for several years and should rise even higher in 2013, especially as the national unemployment rate continues to drift lower. Investors have already bid up the shares of national chain operators such as
, both of which trade just below their all-time highs.
In the year ahead, many investors may take note of the fact that retailer
(KSS - Get Report)
offers much better value. Shares have fallen more than 20% since mid-November, down to levels seen back in 2000. To put that in perspective, Kohl's base of sales and profits are now 100% higher than they were back in 2000.
Of course, it's been half a decade since Kohl's was able to generate double-digital annual sales gains, thanks to moribund consumer spending. And analysts are anticipating more of the same in the fiscal year that begins in February, as sales are forecasted to grow just 1%. Still, as the U.S. consumer strengthens, Kohls' pace of sales should start to rebound in tandem, perhaps back toward the 5% mark by next year.
Meanwhile, shares are remarkably inexpensive, at just four times likely (January) 2013 EBITDA, on an enterprise value basis. That's roughly half the EBITDA multiple this stock garnered when retail sales were more robust in the last decade.