Consumer spending picked up in April, signaling that growth in the economy as a whole is headed for a rebound after a weak first quarter. Purchases increased by 0.4% in April, matching projections from economists surveyed by Bloomberg, after a 0.3% gain in March, the Commerce Department reported this morning. That argues that growth in the second quarter will rebound from the anemic growth reported in the first quarter. The Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow forecast is looking for 4.1% annualized growth in the second quarter. And that supports the case for another interest rate increase at the Federal Reserve’s June 14 meeting.
On the other hand, the Fed’s preferred inflation measure, the PCE, rose just 0.2% in April from March and is now up only 1.7% year over year. That’s below the 2% inflation target set by the U.S. central bank and argues that the Fed has time to wait before it raises interest rates again.
The spending pattern wasn’t all that robust with household spending on goods up 0.7% after inflation and spending on services unchanged after inflation. Spending on services took a big drop from a revised 0.5% increase in March. But with wages and salaries up 0.7% from March–the biggest gain since April 2016–it looks like consumers have enough in their wallets to keep growth marching higher in the second quarter.
The mixed picture is most likely, if I read the market consensus and comments from Fed governors today correctly, to leave a June increase in place but to raise more skepticism about a third increase in interest rates arriving in September. The financial markets right now seem to be divided in a debate over whether the Fed will deliver the three interest rates increases is signaled for 2017 earlier in the year or whether it will stop at two. (There’s still a minority holding out for four but the number holding that position will fall after today’s news.)
The other likely effect of today’s mixed report is that the market will grow more comfortable with its belief that any reduction in the Federal Reserve’s $4.5 trillion balance sheet will be very gradual this year–if it happens in 2017 at all. The consensus now seems to be that the Fed favors starting with a very modest reduction in its purchases of enough Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities to replace those that mature. Estimates I hear call for roughly a $10 billion or so monthly reduction in these purchases and in the size of the Fed’s balance sheet. I don’t expect speeches from the Fed advocating a more aggressive schedule after today’s data.