Consumer expenditures are affected by consumer savings, debt, and credit availability. The Japanese, for example, save about 13.1 percent of their income, whereas U.S. consumers save about 4.7 percent. The result has been that Japanese banks were able to loan money to Japanese companies at a much lower interest rate than U.S. banks could offer to U.S. companies. Access to lower interest rates helped Japanese companies expand faster. U.S. consumers also have a high debt-to-income ratio, which slows down further expenditures on housing and large-ticket items. Credit is very available in the United States but at fairly high interest rates, especially to lower-income borrowers. Marketers must pay careful attention to major changes in incomes, cost of living, interest rates, savings, and borrowing patterns because they can have a high impact on business, especially for companies whose products have high income and price sensitivity.
The deterioration of the natural environment is a major global concern. In many world cities, air and water pollution have reached dangerous levels. There is great concern about certain chemicals creating a hole in the ozone layer and producing a "greenhouse effect" that will lead to dangerous warming of the earth. In Western Europe, "green" parties have vigorously pressed for public action to reduce industrial pollution. In the United States, several thought leaders have documented ecological deterioration, whereas watchdog groups such as the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth carried these concerns into political and social action.
New legislation passed as a result has hit certain industries very hard. Steel companies and public utilities have had to invest billions of dollars in pollution-control equipment and more environmentally friendly fuels. The auto industry has had to introduce expensive emission controls in cars. The soap industry has had to increase its products' biodegradability.
Marketers need to be aware of the threats and opportunities associated with four trends in the natural environment: the shortage of raw materials, the increased cost of energy, increased pollution levels, and the changing role of governments.
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