"Economists are pessimists: they've predicted 8 of the last 3 depressions."
--Barry Asmus

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Personal Income and Outlays

Personal Income and Outlays is a report tracking (brace yourselves) personal income. And outlays.
No, really, that's pretty much it. What do you want? It's very much a "truth in advertising" report.
All right, technically, it tracks the month over month rate of change in personal income, consumer spending, and a price index (which is a fixed basket[1] of goods and services that is purchased by the average consumer)[2]. The report is a lagging report, giving data for the previous month. That still puts it ahead of the curve for GDP releases though. And since consumer spending represents roughly one-third of GDP, this is an important number to watch.
In January, personal income was 1.2%, consumer spending was up 0.3%, and the core PCE price index was up 0.2%. Looking to February, the Econoday-surveyed analysts are expecting to see personal income up 0.4%, consumer spending up 0.6%, and the core PCE price index up 0.2%.
The official report comes to us courtesy of the Bureau of Economic Analysis. From it we learn that personal income was up 0.3% in February (missing expectations), consumer spending was up 0.7% (beating expectations) and the core PCE price index was up 0.2% (meeting expectations). Other interesting data points include:
  • Disposable personal income[3] was up 0.3%. However, in chained (2005) dollars[4], it was down 0.1%.
  • Real DPI, which is DPI adjusted to remove price changes, decreased 0.1% in February (compared to a 0.3% increase in January).
  • Personal current taxes increased $2.2 billion in February, compared to a $55.4 billion increase in January.
  • Personal savings as a percentage of disposable personal income was 5.8% in February, down from January's 6.1%.
  • The PCE price index increased 0.4% in February, if you add food and energy costs back in.
The key takeaway from this, the part that will probably get people excited, is the better than expected consumer spending. That is the part that will be seen as pointing towards Q1 2011 GDP growth.
[1] For certain values of "fixed".
[2] In other words, it's yet another inflation measure. And, like all inflation measures, it has a "core" component as well.
[3] Defined by Barron's Dictionary of Finance and Investment Terms as "personal income remaining after personal taxes and noncommercial government fees have been paid. This money can be spent on essentials or nonessentials or it can be saved."
[4] Chained dollars is a method of adjusting real dollar amounts for inflation over time.

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