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Personal Consumption and Income Data Was Mixed In May 2013

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Both Real Personal Consumption Expenditure (PCE) and Real Disposable Personal Income (DPI) rose. The headline current value PCE and DPI improved even more. Still nothing screamed that the consumer was back.

  • The market looks at current values (not real inflation adjusted) and was expecting a PCE (expenditures) rise of 0.4% (versus 0.3% actual), and a rise in DPI (income) of 0.1% to 0.2% (versus 0.5% actual). In other words the market was expecting better data for expenditures, and worse data for income.
  • The monthly fluctuations are confusing.  Looking at the 3 month trend rate of growth, both income and expenditure are up marginally.
  • Real Personal Income is up 1.1% year-over-year, and real personal expenditures are up 1.8% year-over-year.
  • this data is very noisy and as usual includes backward revision (detailed below) making real time analysis problematic – and the backward revisions this month was mixed to positive.
  • Earlier this week, the third estimate of 1Q2013 GDP release revised downward the Wall Street economy from 2.4% to 1.8%.
  • The savings rate continues to be low, but it did improve this month.

The inflation adjusted numbers are chained, and headline GDP is inflation adjusted.

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).

Per capita inflation adjusted expenditure has exceeded the pre-recession peak.

Seasonally and Inflation Adjusted Expenditure Per Capita

Per capita inflation adjusted income still remains under the pre-recession levels.

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 over time. However, in the last six months expenditures are growing much faster than income.

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

The trend is that the consumer is 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 (PCE is a component of GDP). 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 and GDP 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 is not significantly changed by this month’s revisions – however the do put disposable personal income into a better trend line:

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

The savings rate has been bouncing around in 2012 – but the last 4 month trend is now down. 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 significant fall in savings rate for January 2013 – and a marginal recovery through May (May 3.0%).

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). We should note that the inflation adjustment is for PCE and Personal Income is lower than the ones used for GDP and 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

All Posts on GDP

All Posts on Personal Income Expenditures

All Posts on Consumer Metrics

Econintersect Economic Forecasts

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