US: Personal Income and Outlays

Thu Mar 01 07:30:00 CST 2018

Consensus Consensus Range Actual Previous
Personal Income - M/M change 0.3% 0.1% to 0.5% 0.4% 0.4%
Consumer Spending - M/M change 0.2% 0.1% to 0.4% 0.2% 0.4%
PCE Price Index -- M/M change 0.4% 0.3% to 0.4% 0.4% 0.1%
Core PCE price index - M/M change 0.3% 0.2% to 0.3% 0.3% 0.2%
PCE Price Index -- Y/Y change 1.7% 1.6% to 1.9% 1.7% 1.7%
Core PCE price index - Yr/Yr change 1.5% 1.4% to 1.7% 1.5% 1.5%

Core inflation did noticeably rise but not more than expected, at 0.3 percent in January but not enough to lift the year-on-year rate which holds at an as-expected 1.5 percent. Total prices, reflecting a rise in gas, rose 0.4 percent with this year-on-year rate also unchanged, at 1.7 percent. These results fit in with the Federal Reserve's expectations for a gradual upward trend for prices but they don't accelerate the outlook.

The income side of this report does show the effect of tax changes, as personal taxes fell 3.3 percent in the month to help underpin total income which rose a solid 0.4 percent for a second straight month. The wages & salaries component of income rose 0.5 percent for a second time in three months. Disposable personal income, after holding at 0.3 and 0.4 percent gains in prior months, rose 0.9 percent in January for the largest gain in a year.

Spending data are soft, up only 0.2 percent overall and marking a weak first-quarter start for the consumer. Spending on durable goods fell 1.5 percent on a downturn in vehicle sales offset by a gas-related 1.0 percent rise in non-durable spending and a 0.3 percent increase in service spending.

Reflecting the drop in taxes, the savings rate popped back higher in January, up 7 tenths to 3.2 percent. The gain in income is a positive not only for the savings outlook but the spending outlook as well. This report, despite the monthly weakness in spending, points to economic health, specifically rising income and gradually rising prices.

Market Consensus Before Announcement
Income has been steady and firm but spending, based on January results for retail sales, may prove soft. Personal income is seen is rising 0.3 percent in January while consumer spending is expected to come in at a gain of 0.2 percent. Price data have been subdued though January's pressure in the consumer price report does point to upside risk for PCE prices. The PCE price index is expected to rise 0.4 percent in January for a year-on-year rate of 1.7 percent with the core PCE price index, which excludes both food and energy, seen up 0.3 percent for a yearly 1.5 percent.

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.