December 20, 2019 / 3:07 PM / 2 months ago

U.S. consumer spending rises; inflation tame

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. consumer spending increased solidly in November, pointing to moderate economic growth that could potentially support the Federal Reserve’s desire to keep interest rates unchanged indefinitely, though inflation remained muted.

FILE PHOTO: People shop at Macy's Department store in New York City, U.S., March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

The Commerce Department said on Friday consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, rose 0.4% last month as households stepped up purchases of motor vehicles and spent more on healthcare. Consumer spending increased by an unrevised 0.3% in October.

Last month’s gain in consumer spending was in line with economists’ expectations.

Consumer spending is holding up despite tepid retail sales in recent months and is being supported by the lowest unemployment rate in nearly half a century.

The Fed last week kept rates steady and signaled borrowing costs could remain unchanged at least through 2020. The U.S. central bank cut rates three times this year.

Steady consumer spending added to upbeat data on homebuilding. Manufacturing appears to be stabilizing as tensions in the 17-month trade war between the United States and China subside. But Boeing’s BA.N decision this week to suspend production of its best-selling 737 MAX jetliner in January as fallout from two fatal crashes of the now-grounded aircraft drags into 2020 could delay the turnaround in manufacturing.

Economic growth estimates for the fourth quarter range from as low as a 1.3% annualized rate to as high as a 2.3% pace. The economy grew at a 2.1% pace in the third quarter.

Inflation was benign in November. Consumer prices as measured by the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index rose 0.2% last month, lifted by gains in energy goods and services prices. The PCE price index increased 0.2% in October.

In the 12 months through November, the PCE price index increased 1.5% after advancing 1.4% in October.

Excluding the volatile food and energy components, the PCE price index edged up 0.1% last month, rising by the same margin for the fourth straight month. That lowered the annual increase in the so-called core PCE price index to 1.6% in November from 1.7% in October.

The core PCE index is the Fed’s preferred inflation measure, and had undershot the U.S. central bank’s 2% target this year.

When adjusted for inflation, consumer spending climbed 0.3% in November after nudging up 0.1% in October.

Personal income jumped 0.5% in November, lifted by gains in wages, interest income and farm proprietors’ income, likely related to payments to farmers caught in the 17-month U.S.-China trade war.

Wages increased 0.4% in November after rising 0.5% in October. With income growth slightly outpacing spending, savings rose to $1.31 trillion last month from $1.30 trillion in October.

Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci

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