The Bureau of Economic Analysis said that personal income and spending both increased by 0.3 percent in February, extending the modest gains of January. After weather-related softness in December, the data have been more favorable in the first two months of 2014. On a year-over-year basis, each of these measures has risen 3.0 percent. This compares to personal income growth of 2.9 percent in 2013, with a 3.2 percent pace for personal spending last year. (If you were to omit December, which was an outlier month due to the fiscal cliff the year before, personal income growth would have also been 3.2 percent.)
The increase in spending in February stemmed from both nondurable goods and services, both of which increased 0.3 percent for the month. Durable goods purchases fell for the third straight month, down 0.2 percent in February. It is likely that poor weather conditions negatively impacted these figures, with other releases showing weak spending for automobiles and other items from December to February.
Meanwhile, wages and salaries were up 0.2 percent in February, rising 3.1 percent over the past 12 months. For manufacturers, there was some softness on the wage front, likely due to weather-related slowdowns. Indeed, manufacturing wages and salaries have fallen from $758.0 billion in November to $754.2 billion in February. Prior to that, compensation had been rising, particularly as activity had picked up. For instance, wages in the sector averaged $707.1 billion, $735.4 billion, and $747.8 billion in 2011, 2012, and 2013, respectively.
The savings rate edged slightly higher, up from 4.2 percent in January to 4.3 percent in February. Still, we have generally seen this rate decelerate over the past year. The savings rate dropped from an average of 5.3 percent through the first 11 months of 2012 to 4.5 percent in 2013.
Overall inflationary pressures remain minimal, with prices for core personal consumption expenditures (PCE) up just 0.9 percent year-over-year, down from 1.2 percent last month. Energy prices had risen in December and January on increased home-heating costs, but these eased a bit in February, down 0.4 percent. Inflation remains below the Federal Reserve’s 2 percent target rate, which frees the Fed up to pursue its highly accommodative policies. If anything, there are some who argue that disinflationary pressures might be a concern, but that is less true in the U.S. than it is in Europe.
Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.