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Consumer Debt Hits New High, Shake Shack Investor Seeks Changes, Business Formations Decline

Consumer Debt Hits New High, Shake Shack Investor Seeks Changes, Business Formations Decline

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Consumer Debt Hits New High

Consumer debt topped $17 trillion for the first time in the first quarter, despite declining demand for home mortgages over the past several months, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reported.

Households took on more debt overall, even as mortgage obligations dropped to $324 billion, the lowest level seen since 2014. Mortgage obligations include refinancings, which have been particularly sluggish in recent months as interest rates remained well above year-earlier levels.

“The mortgage refinancing boom is over, but its impact will be seen for decades to come,” Andrew Haughwout, the New York Fed’s director of household and public policy research, said in a statement. New home foreclosures stayed low by historical standards, with about 35,000 individuals showing foreclosure notifications on credit reports, on par with the prior quarter.

Consumers added to overall debt by $148 billion during the first quarter, bringing the running total to $17.05 trillion at the end of March, up 0.9% from the prior quarter, the regional Fed reported. Credit card balances stayed flat at $986 billion, with auto loan balances rising by $10 billion to $1.56 trillion and student loan balances increasing $9 billion to $1.6 trillion.

The regional Fed said auto loan originations were down from pandemic-era highs but still elevated compared with pre-pandemic volumes. Delinquency rates on credit cards and auto loans rose 0.6% and 0.2%, respectively, approaching or surpassing pre-pandemic levels.

Shake Shack Investor Seeks Changes

An activist investor in fast-growing burger chain Shake Shack is reported to be planning a proxy battle as it seeks changes to the company’s real estate strategy among other operations.

Citing sources familiar with the situation, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that Engaged Capital, which holds a stake of about 6.6% in the New York-based company, is looking to add three executive board seats. It is also calling on Shake Shack to retain a consulting firm to help improve efficiency and profits at the chain, which has 460 locations globally and was founded by restaurateur Danny Meyer.

“In order for the company to reach its full growth potential and profitably scale this brand across the U.S. and the world, we believe significant adjustments to the company’s real estate strategy, store design, labor planning and supply chain framework will be required,” Engaged founder Glenn Welling said in a letter to the company that was viewed by the Journal.

A company statement said Shake Shack is “executing our strategic plan and making substantial operational and financial progress” and is “well positioned to continue enhancing value for shareholders.”

Shake Shack has seen its revenue and stock price decline from early 2021 highs as it struggles with downturns in lunch traffic in some large cities, the company has reported.

Business Formations Decline

Nationwide applications to form new businesses totaled just under 434,000 in April, a decline of 4.2% from the prior month in a challenging economy, the Commerce Department reported.

Plans to form new businesses within the next four quarters declined 4.7% to about 32,000 of those applicants. The department’s Census Bureau said that represents a projection of the number of applicants expected to form companies with tax liabilities over the coming year.

There were about 145,000 applicants planning to form businesses with a “high propensity” to create payroll obligations in April, down 3.8% from March.

The data follows a recent report by the National Federation of Independent Business, showing small business optimism declining by 1.1 percentage points in April from the prior month. The trade group’s monthly survey found small business operators challenged primarily by struggles to find qualified workers, with lingering inflation also cited as a top concern.

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