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Consumer Spending and Incomes Fall Short of Expectations, Inflation Muted

US consumer spending missed forecasts in January, rising less than expected after the dip in December. Spending ticked upward by 0.1% in January, while February data for personal incomes showed an increase of 0.2%. Inflation also came in below expectations.

Key Takeaways

  • Consumer spending and incomes both saw modest increases below expectations in January and February respectively.
  • The data clearly points to a loss of economic momentum following a disappointing Q4 GDP.
  • Consumer spending rose 0.1% in January vs 0.3% expected, and incomes in February rose 0.2% vs 0.3% expected.
  • The PCE Index dipped -0.1%, with core PCE up 0.1%.

Spending saw a -0.5% drop in December, just barely rebounding in January with a 0.1% increase, 0.2% short of market expectations. Consumer spending accounts for 70% of the economy. Incomes in January dipped -0.1% before rebounding slightly in February. Government subsidies to farmers caught up I the US/China trade war has led to volatile outliers in incomes. Personal and disposable income both increased by 0.2%.

Overall, the data may indicate a Q1 2019 slowdown, a view supported by weak performance in housing and manufacturing.

Weak Spending

Reduced demand for motor vehicles accounts for some of the missed growth expectations, with unexpectedly weak sales impacting figures. Surveys indicate that consumer outlook is still relatively positive, but that consumers believe a slowdown in economic expansion is underway.

Core prices, excluding the volatile components of food and energy, rose 0.1%, below expectations. Annually the index was up 1.8% from the year before, also below expectations. A Thursday report indicated that expansion has slowed to 2.2% with 1.5% projected for Q1 2019, the slowest in two years.

Spending on goods dropped 0.2% in January – services spending increased. The saving rate dropped to 7.5% from 7.7% the month before.

Retail sales figures for February will be released on Monday and will show whether retail has recovered from the 1.6% drop seen in December. December sales were reportedly the worst since 2009.

PCE Index Shows Tame Inflation

The PCE Index, Fed’s price gauge used to measure inflation dropped by -0.1% in January, strengthening the Fed’s view on implementing no rate hikes for 2019. The gauge is up 1.4% from the year before, in line with expectations and making it the slowest reading since late 2016.

Because core inflation is below expectations, Fed officials can continue to forego rate hikes without inflationary pressures. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell stated that rates could be on hold for “some time” due to tame inflation pressure and a turbulent global economy. Inflation has declined as a result of lower energy prices according to the central bank.

Market Reaction

Gold has continued to tick upward following the released data following a price correction yesterday which brought the precious metal’s trading price below $1,300. Spot gold is now preparing to test resistance, last trading at $1,298.49/oz, up 0.67% with a high of $1,299.61/oz and a low of $1,287.21.

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