Consumer spending rose in September, a sign of resilience among households amid middling economic growth and indications of flagging confidence in the seven-year expansion.
Personal consumption, which measures how much Americans spent on everything from airfare to autos, rose 0.5% in September from a month earlier, the Commerce Department said Monday. Incomes gained 0.3%.
Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had expected personal spending and income both to increase 0.4% in September.
Consumer spending accounts for about two-thirds of total output in the U.S. and household outlays have been the main driver of economic growth throughout most of the expansion. But Americans had appeared more cautious in recent months amid declining confidence in the economy.
In the third quarter of the year, personal-consumption expenditures rose at a 2.1% pace, down from 4.3% during the prior period, according to separate data released last week. The University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index, meanwhile, matched a two-year low in October.
Uncertainty generated by the looming U.S. presidential election could be one factor weighing on consumer confidence. The labor market also has slowed, though it continues to generate jobs at a fair pace.
Despite some mixed signals, economists and policy makers still expect consumers to remain a key support through the end of the year and the latest data backs that up.
“With job gains continuing and the labor market further tightening, the U.S. economy should continue to expand well into 2017,” said Gus Faucher, deputy chief economist at PNC Financial Services.
Monday’s figures showed purchases of autos and other big-ticket items surged in September — spending on durable goods climbed 1.3%.
Americans also saved a little less. The personal saving rate fell to 5.7% from 5.8% the prior month.
Inflation pressures, meanwhile, appear to be stirring though overall they remain muted.
The personal-consumption expenditures price index, the Federal Reserve’s preferred inflation measure, rose 0.2% in September from the prior month. From a year earlier, the index was up 1.2%. That was the firmest year-over-year reading since November 2014.
Inflation has fallen short of the Fed’s 2% target for more than four years.
So-called core prices, which exclude the volatile categories of food and energy, advanced 0.1% from the prior month and were up 1.7% from a year earlier.
“Today’s report reinforces a positive outlook for both inflation and the consumer,” said Brittany Baumann, a macro strategist at TD Securities.
Fed officials are watching such metrics as household spending, inflation and hiring as they weigh another move on the central bank’s benchmark interest rate.
The Fed’s policy committee wraps up a two-day meeting Wednesday.
When adjusting for inflation, consumer spending climbed 0.3% in September from the prior month. Inflation-adjusted disposable personal income — income after taxes — was flat.