A set of two data points produced by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis that track personal income and monthly spending.
Personal income represents the income that households receive from all sources including wages and salaries, fringe benefits such as employer contributions of private pension plans, proprietors’ income, income from rent, dividends and interest and transfer payments such as Social Security and unemployment compensation. Personal contributions for social insurance are subtracted from personal income.
Personal consumption expenditures are the major portion of personal outlays, which also include personal interest payments and transfer payments. Personal consumption expenditures are divided into durable goods, nondurable goods and services. These figures are the monthly analogues to the quarterly consumption expenditures in the GDP report, available in nominal and real (inflation-adjusted) dollars. Economic performance is more appropriately measured after the effects of inflation are removed.
This economic indicator helps gauge the strength of the consumer sector in the United States. Because consumer spending equates to such a large portion of the country’s GDP, being able to gauge trends in income and spending is very important to investors, as it indicates the overall strength of the economy. Also, if investors can track whether consumer monies are being spent on durables, non-durables or services, they can better plan in which companies to invest.
As income and spending increase, it is thought that the equity markets should react positively. This is because of an assumed resulting increase in corporate profits. This could lead to wage and product inflation, though, which would have a negative effect on the bond markets.
In the past twenty years, the personal saving rate has diminished rapidly as consumers have spent a greater and greater share of their income. But that has reversed in part during the recession that began in 2008 as consumers have cut back on credit card use and have been rebuilding retirement accounts.
Income is the major determinant of spending — U.S. consumers spend roughly 95 cents of each new dollar. Consumer spending accounts directly for more than two-thirds of overall economic activity and indirectly influences capital spending, inventory investment and imports.
Increases (decreases) in income and consumption cause bond prices to fall (rally). As long as spending isn’t inflationary, the stock market benefits because greater spending spurs corporate profits. Financial market participants pay somewhat less attention to personal consumption expenditures than to retail sales, which are released earlier in the month. However, they do closely monitor personal income and the PCE deflator.
Changes in personal income signal changes in consumer spending. For instance, a period of rapid income growth may signal future gains in personal consumption expenditures as well. Conversely, a period of declining income growth could signal an impending recession. While consumers often still must purchase necessities, discretionary purchases may decline, or moderate.
Consumers are more likely to increase spending when they see their stock portfolios increase in tandem with the stock market. When the stock market falls, spending is likely to decline because consumers feel less wealthy. Home prices and home equity have similar effects. Rising home prices boost the amount of equity consumers have in their homes. This allows access to Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) accounts. Plus consumers feel wealthier whether they have a HELOC account or not. When home prices decline, home equity falls and cuts into consumer spending.
Personal income is a comprehensive figure, but also incorporates taxes consumers must pay. By removing personal tax payments from personal income, we are left with disposable income. This is what consumers have left to spend on goods and services. Adjusting for inflation reveals growth in real disposable income.