The United States Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) will release its monthly data for March on consumer spending – the biggest part of the country’s economy – on Monday. The report will include both income and spending numbers for a month for the first time in three months since the partial shutdown. It will also include spending figures for the month of February. Here are five things to focus on in the report:
Spending Bounces Back
Consumer spending is expected to rebound in March from its slump at the start of the year. Overall, spending grew at a muted rate of 1.3 percent in the first quarter of 2019, according to the GDP report released Friday, which measures the size of the country’s economy.
And this is likely to be reflected in February’s spending numbers. However, economists are optimistic about March which saw a sharp increase in retail sales driven mainly by a surge in spending on automobiles, gasoline, clothing, and furniture.
Fading Effects of Shutdown and Other Factors
Consumer confidence is on the rise again as the impact of the partial shutdown wanes. Improvement in weather, China’s efforts to reign in their economy’s slowdown, the prospect of a finalized U.S.-China trade deal, and the Federal Reserve’s decision to stop increasing interest rates for the rest of the year will also likely boost consumers’ decision to loosen their purse strings.
This was evident in March’s auto sales numbers which posted an increase after driving down spending at the start of the year.
Steady Wage Growth
Wages and salaries form the biggest part of Americans’ personal income. As March’s jobs report already indicated, wage growth is on a steady upward trajectory, boosting consumers’ ability to spend. Combined with the low unemployment rate and stable average weekly working hours, consumer spending is likely to pick up going into the second quarter of the year.
Inflation Likely to Remain Below Target
The inflation rate continues to remain below the Fed’s target of 2 percent, despite a tight labor market and strong economic growth. And the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation, the personal consumption expenditures price index, rose at a disappointing 1.3 percent this quarter from the preceding one, according to Friday’s GDP report.
Economists say that a further drop in the inflation rate could lead to the Fed cutting interest rates this year.
Tax Returns Have Minimal Effect
The average tax refund amount declined by 16 percent this year compared to 2018, according to the IRS. However, despite smaller refunds, consumers increased their spending in March as indicated by the retail sales report. The impact of tax returns, if any, will likely be more clear in April at the end of tax season, said Scott J Brown, chief economist at Raymond James.