U.S. consumer spending increases steadily; inflation muted

WASHINGTON, (Reuters) - U.S. consumer spending rose steadily in October, suggesting the economy will probably maintain its moderate pace of growth in the fourth quarter.

FILE PHOTO: Shoppers carry bags of purchased merchandise at the King of Prussia Mall, United States' largest retail shopping space, in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, U.S., December 8, 2018. REUTERS/Mark Makela

The Commerce Department said on Wednesday consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, increased 0.3% last month as households spent more on electricity and gas, offseting a drop in new motor vehicle purchases.

Consumer spending rose by an unrevised 0.2% in September. Last month’s increase in consumer spending was in line with economists’ expectations.

The gain in consumer spending together with signs of stabilization in business investment supports economists’ expectations that the economy will continue to grow around its potential, which they estimate at between 1.7% and 2.0%.

The economy grew at a 2.1% annualized pace in the third quarter. Though growth has slowed from a 3.1% rate in the first quarter, the risks of a recession in the near term have subsided as trade tensions between the United States and China have eased and the housing market has rebounded from last year’s soft patch, driven by lower mortgage rates.

The Federal Reserve last month cut interest rates for the third time this year and signaled a pause in the easing cycle that started in July when it reduced borrowing costs for the first time since 2008.

With consumer spending rising moderately, inflation remained benign in October. Consumer prices as measured by the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index rose 0.2% last month, lifted by food, energy goods and services prices. The PCE price index was unchanged in August and September.

In the 12 months through October, the PCE price index increased 1.3%, matching September’s gain.

Excluding the volatile food and energy components, the PCE price index edged up 0.1% last month after being unchanged in September. That lowered the annual increase in the so-called core PCE price index to 1.6% in October from 1.7% in September.

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 nudged up 0.1% in October after gaining 0.2% in September.

Personal incomes were unchanged in October, held back by declines in interest income and farm proprietors’ income. Income rose 0.3% in the prior month when it was driven by an increase in farm proprietors’ income related to payments to farmers caught in the U.S.-China trade war.

Wages increased 0.4% in October after climbing 0.1% in September. Wages were boosted by a $7.2 billion adjustment to account for General Motors strike pay and payments associated with a new contract for members of the United Automobile Workers union.

With spending outpacing income growth, savings fell to $1.29 trillion from $1.34 trillion in September.

Reporting by Lucia Mutikani Editing by Paul Simao