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Personal Income and Spending Rise in Line With Expectations, Inflation Remains Tame

Personal income rose 0.2% in December, continuing a trend of steady growth in spending amid a robust labor market. Personal-consumption expenditures, or PCE, rose 0.3% last month. Expectations for both personal income and PCE were set at 0.3%.

Key Takeaways

  • Personal income rose slightly less than expected for December 2019 at 0.2% vs. 0.3% forecast.
  • Household spending, or PCE, rose 0.3% in line with market expectations.
  • Consumer confidence remains relatively strong despite the 0.1% drop in spending from November to December.

Spending continued to see growth in December, albeit at a reduced pace from the month before which saw a 0.4% increase. December growth came despite reports of slow retail sales from major retailers throughout the holiday season. Households spent 0.3% more on goods in December compared to November, although spending on long-lasting goods saw reduced activity. Spending on services rose 0.3%.

Spending rose 4% in the 12 months through December, marking the slowest pace of growth since 2016 according to the Commerce Department. The pace of growth slowed in the latter half of 2019. Household spending grew 1.8% annually in Q4 of last year, marking a steep decline from the 3.2% growth seen in Q3 and 4.6% in Q2.

Consumer Spending

Consumer spending, which accounts for two thirds of the US economy, rose at a pace of 2.3% last year and supported other struggling areas of the economy like housing, manufacturing, and business investment. Consumer spending and labor have acted as a powerhouse in the past year or so, shielding the economy from some from some of the negative effects of the trade war and prolonging the ongoing period of expansion.

Consumer sentiment remains positive, with an index of consumer confidence rising in January from December according to the Conference Board research group. Market forecasts anticipate ongoing positive outlook in the near future.

Personal Income and Inflation

Wages grew at a seasonally adjusted rate of 0.3% in December, while goods and services costs moved slightly higher. The PCE price incex, which is used to measure inflation, rose 1.6% annually last month compared to 1.4% in November, undershooting the Fed’s target inflation range of 2.0% Core PCE, which excludes the volatile components of food and energy costs, rose 1.6% as well.

With tame inflation pressure, the Federal Reserve elected to maintain the current benchmark rate of interest at Wednesday’s FOMC meeting, as expected. Policymakers have indicated that interest rates will likely remain static, although market consensus currently shows expectations for further rate cuts in late 2020. President Donald Trump recently expressed the view that the central bank should cut interest rates from the 1.5% - 1.75% range down to zero in order to stimulate the economy.

Market Reaction

Gold prices have ticked downward following the release of the data. Spot gold last traded at $1,583.20/oz, down -0.02% with a high of $1,584.77/oz and a low of $1,571.04/oz. The data was relatively in line with expectations and largely positive. ForexLive managing director Adam Button described income growth as “fairly stagnant”, but overall, the combination of the in-line inflation and household financial activity has made for an increased risk appetite in the financial markets.