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Personal Incomes Fall Unexpectedly in January, Gold Price Sell-off Continues

At -0.1%, personal incomes for Americans dropped for the first time in approximately three years after the increase seen in December was connected with farm subsidies and dividends.

Key Takeaways

  • Personal incomes dropped -0.1% in January, the first decline in around three years.
  • January’s figures are in stark contrast to the 1% increase seen in December, the largest increase in six years.
  • December purchases were shown to drop by 0.5% while the price gauge used by the Fed rose 1.9% in the same month.

The Commerce Department has reported the first drop in personal income in about three years after a six-year high was reached the month before. Due to the government shutdown, purchasing data was delayed and available for December only. Purchases dropped while the core price gauge rose the same amount as in November, 1.9%.

December Boost

December’s 1% increase is attributable to the $83.4 billion increase in personal dividend income which mostly came from a unique dividend payment by VMware Inc that month. VMware Inc released a special one-time dividend of $26.81 per share which totaled at around $11 billion.

Farm proprietors’ income rose $29.2 billion in December, stimulated by subsidies from the Department of Agriculture. Meanwhile, consumer spending declined at the end of 2018 with inflation-adjusted spending services dipping 0.2% in December on a monthly basis.

Retail sales were reported to be at an unexpected 9-year low, although many analysts and retailers have challenged the data which does not fall in line with other data released by major retailers themselves which appears to show strong sales during that period.

The main PCE price index increased by 1.7% in December on an annual basis after rising 1.8% annually in November. Monthly, it rose 0.1% which was above flat market expectations, and the core index was at 0.2% growth which met expectations.

Savings rose to the highest rate since 2016 at 7.6% after a reading of 6.1% the month prior.

January Performance

Excluding certain items included in personal income measurement, wages and salaries actually increased in January with a 0.3% advance following a 0.5% increase prior. Fed officials are now likely to hold off on rate hikes as has been hotly debated over the past few months.

In January, officials indicated that they would be patient with rate hikes depending on economic conditions, and data such as the most recent report on personal income support the outlook that the Fed should wait for indicators of rising inflation and spending before considering another hike.

Although the official inflation target is 2% including all items, the core gauge of personal spending is a key indicator that informs Fed policy on rate hikes. The next report on March 29 will include February data on incomes and January data on spending and PCE inflation as delays from the government shutdown continue to impact the distribution of economic data.

Market Reaction

Gold has continued today’s downward trend following the news and is now on course to test the $1,300/oz line of support, trading down -0.57% at $1,305.28/oz with a low of $1,304.48/oz and a high of $1,315.25/oz.

Spot gold is now at a two-week low as inflation pressures are reported to have risen approximately in line with expectations with the PCE index rising 0.2% in December compared to 0.1% in November. However, gold prices were already under pressure following an strengthened dollar and a drop in the measure of risk aversion sentiment in the financial markets.

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