Despite the Federal Reserve’s efforts to curb inflation by slowing the economy, Americans are spending at a faster pace, propelled by larger paychecks and a robust labor market. As per the latest data from the Commerce Department, consumer spending – the primary engine of economic growth – witnessed a significant 0.8% rise in July, up from a revised 0.6% increase in June. This surge in spending, spanning across sectors from groceries, recreational goods, vehicles, to services like housing, dining, and financial services, signals a healthy consumer sentiment, even as the Fed grapples with inflationary pressures.
While consumer spending is on the rise, inflation remains a critical concern for the Federal Reserve. The Fed’s preferred metric, the personal-consumption expenditures price index, recorded a 0.2% rise in July, matching the pace set in June. Interestingly, core prices, which exclude volatile food and energy categories, also rose at the same rate. While the latest report showed inflation running at a 2.1% annualized rate over the three months through July, some Fed officials are apprehensive about its continued slide towards their 2% target, given that economic activity hasn’t eased as much as they anticipated. This state of affairs sets the stage for a crucial Fed meeting slated for Sept. 19-20, where the decision on interest rates will be closely watched.
Consumer Spending Soars in July Amidst Modest Inflation
Consumer spending, the primary engine of economic growth, experienced a significant uptick in July, increasing by 0.8% according to the Commerce Department. This is a jump from a revised 0.6% increase seen in June. The surge was driven by increased expenditure on groceries, recreational goods, vehicles, and services such as housing, dining out, financial services, and insurance. When adjusted for inflation, the consumer spending still reported a solid increase of 0.6%.
Steady Inflation Rates
The Federal Reserve’s favored metric of consumer prices, the personal-consumption expenditures price index, reported a 0.2% increase in July, maintaining the same rate as June. Core prices, which exclude the unpredictable food and energy categories, also saw the same rate of increase. Economists typically regard core inflation as a more reliable predictor of future inflation than overall inflation.
The latest report indicates that inflation ran at a 2.1% annualized rate over the three months through July. Compared to last year, prices rose by 3.3% in July, marking an increase from a 3% gain in June. Core prices experienced a 2.9% annualized rate increase over the previous three months.
The Health of the Consumer
Despite the Federal Reserve’s attempts to curb inflation by slowing the economy, Americans are spending at an accelerated rate due to increased paychecks. This mirrors recent strong retail sales reports, sparking fears of rapid growth and higher interest rates. "The consumer is healthy, and that’s being driven by a strong labor market," commented Stephen Gallagher, U.S. chief economist at Société Générale.
While inflation has significantly decreased since the previous year, some Federal Reserve officials are concerned that it may not continue to approach their 2% target as economic activity has not decelerated as much as expected. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell last week suggested maintaining rates at their current level at the upcoming September 19-20 meeting, leaving the possibility open for future increases if the economy remains robust.
Despite these concerns, consumer spending outlook remains strong. Walmart, the largest retailer in the nation by revenue, recently improved its full-year financial outlook, citing a brighter consumer spending forecast due to low unemployment and robust wage growth.
Despite inflation concerns, the robust consumer spending indicates a healthy US economy driven by a strong labor market. While the Federal Reserve may need to consider rate hikes in the future to keep inflation in check, for now, consumers seem to be enjoying their larger paychecks. Businesses, particularly retailers, can benefit from this trend if they can offer attractive deals to these bargain-hunting consumers. However, they should also keep a careful eye on the potential inflation risks that could impact their costs and pricing strategies.