US: Personal Income and Outlays

Fri Sep 29 07:30:00 CDT 2017

Consensus Consensus Range Actual Previous Revised
Personal Income - M/M change 0.2% 0.0% to 0.4% 0.2% 0.4% 0.3%
Consumer Spending - M/M change 0.1% -0.2% to 0.3% 0.1% 0.3%
PCE Price Index -- M/M change 0.3% 0.2% to 0.4% 0.2% 0.1%
Core PCE price index - M/M change 0.2% 0.1% to 0.3% 0.1% 0.1%
PCE Price Index -- Y/Y change 1.5% 1.4% to 1.6% 1.4% 1.4%
Core PCE price index - Yr/Yr change 1.4% 1.3% to 1.7% 1.3% 1.4%

The next Federal Reserve rate hike may not be in December after all, based on an unexpectedly weak personal income and spending report that includes very soft inflation readings. Income is the best news in the report as it managed the expected 0.2 percent August gain getting boosts from proprietor income, transfer receipts and also rent. Wages and salaries, in part reflecting a decline in hours, came in unchanged though this follows strong growth in the prior 2 months. Another weakness in today's report is a 1 tenth downward revision to overall July income which now stands at 0.3 percent. The savings rate held unchanged in August at a moderate 3.6 percent.

Now the bad news starts. Spending came in at only 0.1 percent as spending on durables, the likely result of Hurricane Harvey's late month hit on Texas and related declines in auto sales, fell a very steep 1.1 percent to fully reverse strength in the prior month. Spending on both nondurables and services actually inched forward in August to 0.3 percent each.

The really bad news comes from inflation readings as the core PCE price index, which is the Federal Reserve's central inflation gauge, inched only 0.1 percent ahead while the year-on-year rate fell backwards, down 1 tenth to 1.3 percent for the weakest result since November 2015. Overall prices, likely getting a small boost from a Harvey-related spike in gasoline prices, rose 0.2 percent with this yearly rate, however, also moving backwards, down 1 tenth to 1.5 percent. All these inflation readings, interestingly, came in no better than Econoday's low estimates.

Data in this report, after inflation adjustments, are direct inputs into third-quarter GDP and the results will pull down estimates. Real spending fell 0.1 percent in August to cut in half July's 0.2 percent gain. The Bureau of Economic Analysis which compiles the report could not quantify Harvey's effect and had to make estimates for missing data. Yet the impact appears obvious and is the most tangible hurricane effect so far to hit the nation's economic data. The next hurricane effects will be coming from Irma's September strike on Florida.

Market Consensus Before Announcement
Both income and spending rebounded in July but not the Federal Reserve's PCE price indexes which remained lifeless. Personal income is seen is rising 0.2 percent in August vs July's 0.4 percent gain though consumer spending, reflecting August weakness in retail sales, is expected to slow to a 0.1 percent increase vs 0.3 percent in July. PCE prices, both overall and for the core, managed only 0.1 percent gains in July with the year-on-year rates both at a very soft 1.4 percent. Overall prices, boosted by higher energy prices that in part reflect gains for energy, are expected to rise 0.3 percent with the yearly rate seen at 1.5 percent. Core prices, which exclude both energy and food, are seen rising 0.2 percent in the month for a yearly rate of 1.4 percent in specific results that would not further heighten expectations for a December rate hike from the Federal Reserve.

Personal income represents the income that households receive from all sources including wages and salaries, fringe benefits such as employer contributions to private pension plans, proprietors' income, income from rent, dividends and interest and transfer payments such as Social Security and unemployment compensation. Personal contributions for social insurance are subtracted from personal income.

Personal consumption expenditures are the major portion of personal outlays, which also include personal interest payments and transfer payments. Personal consumption expenditures are divided into durable goods, nondurable goods and services. These figures are the monthly analogues to the quarterly consumption expenditures in the GDP report, available in nominal and real (inflation-adjusted) dollars. Economic performance is more appropriately measured after the effects of inflation are removed.

Each month, the Bureau of Economic Analysis also compiles the personal consumption expenditure price index, also known as the PCE price index. This inflation index measures a basket of goods and services that is updated annually in contrast to the CPI, which measures a fixed basket.

The income and outlays data are another handy way to gauge the strength of the consumer sector in this economy and where it is headed. Income gives households the power to spend and/or save. Spending greases the wheels of the economy and keeps it growing. Savings are often invested in the financial markets and can drive up the prices of stocks and bonds. Even if savings simply go into a bank account, part of those funds typically is used by the bank for lending and therefore contributes to economic activity. In the past twenty years, the personal saving rate has diminished rapidly as consumers have spent a greater and greater share of their income. But that has reversed in part during the recession that began in 2008 as consumers have cut back on credit card use and have been rebuilding retirement accounts.

The consumption (outlays) part of this report is even more directly tied to the economy, which we know usually dictates how the markets perform. Consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of the economy, so if you know what consumers are up to, you'll have a pretty good handle on where the economy is headed. Investors can see how consumers are directing their spending, whether they are buying durable goods, nondurable goods or services. Needless to say, that's a big advantage for investors who determine which companies' shares they will buy.

The PCE price indexes have gained importance since the Fed announced a medium-term inflation goal of 2 percent based on the headline number on a year-on-year basis. The Fed forecasts inflation for both the headline PCE price index and the core rate (excluding food and energy).

Income is the major determinant of spending -- U.S. consumers spend roughly 95 cents of each new dollar. Consumer spending accounts directly for more than two-thirds of overall economic activity and indirectly influences capital spending, inventory investment and imports.

Increases (decreases) in income and consumption cause bond prices to fall (rally). As long as spending isn't inflationary, the stock market benefits because greater spending spurs corporate profits. Financial market participants pay somewhat less attention to personal consumption expenditures than to retail sales, which are released earlier in the month. However, they do closely monitor personal income and the PCE deflator.

Changes in personal income signal changes in consumer spending. For instance, a period of rapid income growth may signal future gains in personal consumption expenditures as well. Conversely, a period of declining income growth could signal an impending recession. While consumers often still must purchase necessities, discretionary purchases may decline, or moderate.

Consumers are more likely to increase spending when they see their stock portfolios increase in tandem with the stock market. When the stock market falls, spending is likely to decline because consumers feel less wealthy. Home prices and home equity have similar effects. Rising home prices boost the amount of equity consumers have in their homes. This allows access to Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) accounts. Plus consumers feel wealthier whether they have a HELOC account or not. When home prices decline, home equity falls and cuts into consumer spending.

Personal income is a comprehensive figure, but also incorporates taxes consumers must pay. By removing personal tax payments from personal income, we are left with disposable income. This is what consumers have left to spend on goods and services. Adjusting for inflation reveals growth in real disposable income.

On the inflation front, if PCE inflation is running below the Fed's goal of 2 percent inflation, that is seen as favorable toward Fed ease or neutral monetary policy. PCE inflation above 2 percent suggests that the Fed might be more inclined to raise policy rates.