September 2012 Real Personal Income Is Unchanged

Written by Steven Hansen

September 2012 Real Personal Consumption Expenditure (PCE) – the inflation adjusted spending of consumers – grew for the third month. Real Disposable Personal Income (DPI) which has risen most of 2012, was unchanged following last month’s contraction.

  • real spending is now showing three solid months of good expansion (see graphs below).
  • The scary number is real disposable income, which peaked in July.  DPI is an element used to mark dates of recessions based on the peak month of income.
  • The market looks at current values (not real) and was expecting a PCE rise of 0.4% to 0.6% (versus 0.8% actual), and a rise in DPI of 0.5% to 0.6% (versus 0.4% actual).
  • this data is very noisy and as usual includes backward revision (detailed below) making real time analysis problematic – however there was little revision to last month’s data

Econintersect believes year-over-year trends are very revealing in understanding economic dynamics. Again, there was a broad revision this month in the data for the last six months, which is explained below (see caveats below).

Keeping it real, per capita inflation adjusted expenditure remains below the pre-recession peak – but remains at the high point since the end of the Great Recession.

Seasonally and Inflation Adjusted Expenditure Per Capita

Interestingly, per capita inflation adjusted income has returned to pre-recession levels before falling off in August.

Seasonally and Inflation Adjusted Income Per Capita

The graph below illustrates the relationship between income (DPI) and expenditures (PCE) – showing clearly income and expenditures grow at nearly the same rate.

Indexed to Jan 2000, Growth of Real Disposable Income (blue line) to Real Expenditures (red line)

The consumer was since mid 2010 was continuing to spend more of his income (and therefore saving less) – but in 2012 this trend reversed. In the last two months, however, this trend appears to be again changing again to the consumer spending more of its income.

Seasonally Adjusted Spending’s Ratio to Income (a declining ratio means consumer is spending less of its Income)

PCE is the spending of consumers. In the USA, the consumer is the economy. Likewise, personal income is the money consumers earn to spend. Even though most analysts concentrate on personal expenditures because GDP is based on spending, increases in personal income allow consumers the option to spend more.

There is a general correlation of PCE to GDP. This index has shown negative growth several times since the end of the 2007-09 recession. PCE is a fairly noisy index and subject at times to significant backward revision (see caveats below).

Seasonally and Inflation Adjusted Year-over-Year Change of Personal Consumption Expenditures (blue line) to GDP (red line)

Econintersect uses the inflation adjusted (chained) numbers. Disposable Personal Income (DPI) is the income after the taxes.

Seasonally & Inflation Adjusted Percent Change From the Previous Month – Personal Disposable Income (red line) and Personal Disposable Expenditures (blue line)

And please note that Econintersect’s previous analysis of PCE and DPI has been somewhat changed by backward revision:

Estimates have been revised for July and August. Changes in personal income, current-dollar and chained (2005) dollar DPI, and current-dollar and chained (2005) dollar PCE for July and August — revised and as published in last month’s release — are shown below.

The savings rate is in an uptrend in 2012 – however this trend may be reversing with the data of the last three months. In an economy driven by consumers, a higher savings rate does not bode well for increased GDP. This is one reason GDP may not be a good single metric of economic activity. The question remains what is the optimal savings rate for the current demographics. It might be expected that as people near retirement, the savings rate rises and after people retire, savings rate falls. Econintersect is not aware of any study which documents this effect. The graph below is from BEA table 2.6. – and shows a slight reduction in the savings rate for September (with a three month downward trend).

Personal Savings as a Percentage of Disposable Personal Income

And one look at the different price changes seen by the BEA in this PCE release versus the BEA’s GDP and BLS’s Consumer Price Index (CPI).

Year-over-Year Change – PCE’s Price Index (blue line) versus CPI-U (red line) versus GDP Deflator (green line)

Finally for recession watchers, here is the graph below, here are the elements used to mark a recession. (1) personal income less transfer payments, in real terms and (2) employment. In addition, we refer to two indicators with coverage primarily of manufacturing and goods: (3) industrial production and (4) the volume of sales of the manufacturing and wholesale-retail sectors adjusted for price changes.

If a line falls below the 0 (black line) – that sector is contracting from the previous month. Personal income is the blue line. Note – the below graph uses multipliers to make movements more obvious (ignore the value of the scale, only consider whether the graph is above [good] or below [bad] the zero line).

Month-over-Month Growth Personal Income less transfer payments (blue line), Employment (red line), Industrial Production (green line), Business Sales (orange line)

Caveats on the Use of Personal Income and Consumption Expenditure Data

PCE is a fairly noisy index and subject at times to significant backward revision. This index cannot be relied upon in real time.

This personal income and personal consumption expenditure data by itself is not a good tool to warn of an upcoming recession. Econintersect has shown that PCE is a distraction for recession watchers, with moves over a few months having a 30% accuracy of indicating a recession start, and a 70% incidence of indicating a non-recessionary event. The graph below shows the lack of correlation. Note, however, that PCE does have prolonged declines over many months associated with recessions but these long declines are not very good in “predicting” a recession until it is already underway.

Readers are warned that this article is based on seasonally adjusted data. Monthly non-adjusted data is available with a delay of several months.

Related Articles

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All Posts on Personal Income Expenditures

All Posts on Consumer Metrics

Econintersect Economic Forecasts

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