The Bureau of Economic Analysis said that personal spending fell 0.1 percent in July, its first decline since the weather-related storms in January. This finding mirrors recent news of flat retail sales in July, showing the consumer still cautious despite recent economic progress. Purchases of durable and nondurable goods fell by 0.7 percent and 0.1 percent, respectively, in July, with service-sector spending unchanged for the month. Nonetheless, personal spending has increased at an annualized 4.1 percent pace over the past six months. Hopefully, July’s figures represent a pause in what has otherwise been decent growth in consumer spending this year.
Personal income growth also eased to its slowest pace of 2014, down from 0.5 percent in June to 0.2 percent in July. Still, it was the seventh consecutive monthly increase in income growth, with personal incomes up 3.3 percent since December or 4.3 percent over the past 12 months. For manufacturers, total wages and salaries were unchanged at $787.3 billion in July, but they have risen 4.2 percent year-to-date (up from $755.3 billion in December).
The savings rate moved higher, up from 5.4 to 5.7 percent, with personal spending declining. That was the highest savings rate since December 2012. The rate has gradually moved higher so far this year, up from 4.1 percent in December.
In other news, the personal consumption expenditure (PCE) deflator eased somewhat in July, up 0.1 percent relative to 0.2 monthly percent gains from March through June. This reflects an increase in food prices (up 0.4 percent) that was mostly offset by a decline in energy prices (down 0.3 percent). The year-over-year pace was unchanged at 1.6 percent, with core inflation (which excludes food and energy costs) remaining at a 1.5 percent annual pace.
The Federal Reserve prefers the PCE deflator as its measure of inflation, and as such, it will welcome the news that pricing pressures have decelerated slightly over the summer months. At the same time, consumers will likely focus on the fact that both food (up 2.0 percent) and energy (up 2.4 percent) costs have risen modestly over the past 12 months, a pocketbook issue that they will notice when making purchases.
Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.