Moderate U.S. consumer spending, inflation support rate cut

FILE PHOTO: A man shops at a store that sells parts and accessories for Recreational Vehicles (RVs) in Orlando, Florida, U.S., June 20, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. consumer spending and prices rose moderately in June, pointing to slower economic growth and benign inflation that could see the Federal Reserve cutting interest rates on Wednesday for the first time in a decade.

The report from the Commerce Department on Tuesday was released as officials from the Fed were due to gather for a two-day policy meeting against the backdrop of an uncertain economic outlook. The 10-year old economic expansion, the longest in history, is facing headwinds from trade tensions, fears of a disorderly departure from the European Union by Britain and weak global growth.

With those risks in mind, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell early this month signaled the U.S. central would ease monetary policy. A strong labor market and signs that the economy was not slowing abruptly, however, saw financial markets dialing back expectations of a 50 basis point rate cut on Wednesday.

Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, gained 0.3% as an increase in services and outlays on other goods offset a decline in purchases of motor vehicles.

Data for May was revised up to show consumer spending rising 0.5% instead of the previously reported 0.4% advance. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast consumer spending climbing 0.3% last month.

The data was included in last Friday’s second-quarter gross domestic product report, which showed consumer spending increased at a 4.3% annualized rate, accelerating from a tepid 1.1% pace in the January-March period.

U.S. financial markets were little moved by the data.

SAVINGS SURGE

Robust consumer spending blunted some of the hit to GDP from weak exports, business investment and a slowdown in inventory accumulation. The economy grew at a 2.1% rate last quarter, pulling back from the first quarter’s brisk 3.1% pace.

The economy is slowing largely as the stimulus from last year’s $1.5 trillion tax cut package fades.

Consumer prices as measured by the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index edged up 0.1% in June as food and energy prices fell. The PCE price index gained 0.1% in May. In the 12 months through June, the PCE price index rose 1.4% after a similar increase in May.

Excluding the volatile food and energy components, the PCE price index rose 0.2% last month, increasing by the same margin for a third straight month. That lifted the annual increase in the so-called core PCE price index to 1.6% from 1.5% in May.

The core PCE index is the Fed’s preferred inflation measure and has undershot the U.S. central bank’s 2% target this year.

When adjusted for inflation, consumer spending gained 0.2% in June. This so-called real consumer spending rose 0.3% in May. Last month’s small gain in core consumer spending likely sets up consumption for a step-down in the third quarter after the robust growth recorded in the April-June period.

Last month, spending on goods rose 0.3%. Spending on services also rose 0.3%.

Consumer spending in June was supported by a 0.4% rise in personal income, which followed a similar increase in May. Wages increased 0.5%. Savings shot up to $1.34 trillion from $1.31 trillion in May.

(Reporting Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

Strong growth gives U.S. leverage in China trade talks-White House adviser

U.S. President Donald Trump talks to reporters as he departs for travel to Indianapolis, Indiana from the White House in Washington, U.S., April 26, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Jason Lange and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Strong U.S. economic growth and modest inflation are giving Washington leverage over Beijing in trade talks, the White House’s top economic adviser said on Friday as U.S. and Chinese negotiators prepared for a new round of meetings next week.

Larry Kudlow, director of the White House’s National Economic Council, also said on CNBC television that strong growth could give the Federal Reserve room to cut interest rates.

He spoke after the Commerce Department reported that first-quarter U.S. economic growth accelerated to a 3.2 percent annualized rate, driven by a smaller trade deficit and a jump in business inventories.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are headed to Beijing for talks starting next Wednesday, while Chinese Vice Premier Liu He is scheduled to return to Washington on May 8.

“I hope additional progress will be made; I’m cautiously optimistic about the outcome for a deal,” Kudlow said of next week’s talks.

“China’s economy is slumping and has been slumping for quite some time,” Kudlow added. “The U.S. economy, as I say, is in this prosperity cycle with no end in sight. So we believe that does give us some leverage if you will, but we believe also that China may be open to a lot of good trade reforms.”

U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday repeated that China trade talks were “going very well,” a day after he said that he would soon host Chinese President Xi Jinping at the White House. Trump has said he expects to finalize a deal in a meeting with Xi.

Asked about prospects for a such a meeting on Fox News Channel, Kudlow said Trump would like to meet Xi and close a deal if it is “a great one for America. … We’re not there yet.”

The world’s two largest economies have been locked in a tariff war for nearly 10 months, levying hundreds of billions of dollars in duties on each other’s goods, and are trying to negotiate a way out.

The United States is demanding that China make major changes to its economic policies to better protect American intellectual property and end cyber theft of trade secrets and policies that force U.S. companies to turn over technology to Chinese firms.

Washington also wants Beijing to curb subsidies for Chinese state enterprises, increased access to China’s markets for U.S. companies and increased purchases of U.S. agricultural, energy and manufactured products by China.

China is seeking removal of U.S. tariffs on some $250 billion worth of Chinese goods imposed by Trump.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Jason Lange; Writing by David Lawder and Makini Brice; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. retail sales, jobless claims data brighten economic picture

FILE PHOTO: People walk with shopping bags at Roosevelt Field mall in Garden City, New York, U.S., December 7, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. retail sales increased by the most in 1-1/2 years in March as households boosted purchases of motor vehicles and a range of other goods, the latest indication that economic growth picked up in the first quarter after a false start.

The economy’s enduring strength was underscored by other data on Thursday showing the number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits dropped to the lowest in nearly 50 years last week.

Fears of an abrupt slowdown in activity escalated at the turn of the year after a batch of weak economic reports. But those concerns have dissipated in recent weeks amid fairly upbeat data on trade, inventories and construction spending that have suggested growth last quarter could actually be better than the moderate pace logged in the final three months of 2018.

A report from the Federal Reserve on Wednesday described economic activity as expanding at a “slight-to-moderate” pace in March and early April. The Fed’s “Beige Book” report of anecdotal information on business activity collected from contacts nationwide showed a “few” of the U.S. central bank’s districts reported “some strengthening.”

“Supported by strong labor market conditions and improving wage growth, household spending appears well positioned to increase in the coming months,” said Jim Baird, chief investment officer at Plante Moran Financial Advisors in Kalamazoo, Michigan. “Fears about the softening in the economy were overblown.”

The Commerce Department said retail sales surged 1.6 percent last month. That was the biggest increase since September 2017 and followed an unrevised 0.2 percent drop in February.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast retail sales would accelerate 0.9 percent in March. Retail sales in March advanced 3.6 percent from a year ago.

With March’s rebound, retail sales have now erased December’s plunge, which had put consumer spending and the overall economy on a sharply lower growth trajectory. Retail sales last month were probably lifted by tax refunds, even though they have been smaller than in previous years, following the revamping of the U.S. tax code in January 2018.

Excluding automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services, retail sales rebounded 1.0 percent in March after a downwardly revised 0.3 percent decline in February. These so-called core retail sales correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product.

They were previously reported to have decreased 0.2 percent in February. Consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of economic activity and is being buoyed by a tightening labor market that is driving up wage growth.

STRONG LABOR MARKET

A separate report from the Labor Department on Thursday showed initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 192,000 for the week ended April 13, the lowest level since September 1969. Claims have now declined for five straight weeks. Economists had forecast claims would rise to 205,000 in the latest week.

Though the trend in hiring has slowed, job gains remain above the roughly 100,000 needed per month to keep up with growth in the working-age population. The unemployment rate is at 3.8 percent, near the 3.7 percent Fed officials project it will be by the end of the year.

The dollar was trading higher against a basket of currencies while stocks on Wall Street were mixed. Prices of U.S. Treasuries were up.

March’s strong core retail sales could result in the further upgrading of first-quarter GDP estimates. Growth forecasts for the first quarter were boosted to around a 2.5 percent annualized rate on Wednesday after data showed the U.S. trade deficit narrowed for a second straight month in February.

First-quarter growth forecasts have been raised from as low as a 0.5 percent rate following relatively strong reports on trade, inventories and construction spending. The economy grew at a 2.2 percent pace in the fourth quarter.

Another report from the Commerce Department on Thursday showed business inventories rose in February and stock accumulation in the prior month was a bit stronger than initially estimated, a potential boost to growth.

Stronger growth in the first quarter will probably not change the view that the economy will slow this year as the stimulus from a $1.5 trillion tax cut package diminishes and the impact of interest rate hikes over the last few years lingers.

It also is unlikely to have any impact on monetary policy after the Fed recently suspended its three-year campaign to tighten monetary policy. The central bank dropped projections for any rate hikes this year after increasing borrowing costs four times in 2018.

In March, sales at auto dealerships jumped 3.1 percent, the most since September 2017. Receipts at service stations increased 3.5 percent, likely reflecting higher gasoline prices.

Receipts at clothing stores shot up 2.0 percent, the largest increase since last May. There were also increases in sales at furniture outlets, electronics and appliances shops, and food and beverage stores. Sales at building materials and garden equipment and supplies also rose last month.

Online and mail-order retail sales increased 1.2 percent in March. Sales at restaurants and bars climbed 0.8 percent, the most since last July. But receipts at hobby, musical instrument and book stores fell 0.3 percent last month.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)

Fed’s Williams expects further U.S. rate increases into next year

President and Chief Executive Officer of the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, John Williams, gestures as he addresses a news conference in Zurich, Switzerland September 22, 2017. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

By Jonathan Spicer

NEW YORK (Reuters) – One of the most influential Federal Reserve policymakers said on Tuesday he expects further interest-rate hikes continuing next year since the U.S. economy is “in really good shape,” reinforcing the Fed’s upbeat tone in the face of growing doubts in financial markets.

Even as New York Fed President John Williams told reporters he expects the U.S. expansion to carry on and surpass its previous record around mid-2019, stock markets headed lower Tuesday morning while a potentially worrying trend of “inversion” continued to grip Treasury markets.

The Fed is expected to raise its policy rate another notch this month and, according to policymakers’ forecasts from September, aims to continue tightening monetary policy three more times next year. Futures markets, however, are betting a slowdown overseas and in sectors like U.S. housing will force the Fed to stop short.

Yet Williams, a permanent voter on policy and close ally of Fed Chair Jerome Powell, said lots of signs point to a “quite strong” and healthy labor market, and he predicted economic growth of around an above-potential 2.5 percent in 2019.

“Given this outlook I describe of strong growth, strong labor market and inflation near our goal – and taking into account all the various risks around the outlook – I do continue to expect that further gradual increases in interest rates will best foster a sustained economic expansion and a sustained achievement of our dual mandate,” Williams said at the New York Fed.

(Reporting by Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Fed set to hold rates steady, remain on track for more hikes

FILE PHOTO: The Federal Reserve Building stands in Washington, DC, U.S., April 3, 2012. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

By Lindsay Dunsmuir

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Federal Reserve is expected to keep interest rates unchanged on Wednesday, but solid economic growth combined with rising inflation are likely to keep it on track for another two hikes this year even as President Donald Trump has ramped up criticism of its push to raise rates.

The U.S. central bank so far this year has increased borrowing costs in March and June, and investors see additional moves in September and December. Policymakers have raised rates seven times since December 2015.

The Fed will announce its decision at 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT) on Wednesday. No press conference is scheduled and only minor changes are anticipated compared with the Fed’s June policy statement, which emphasized accelerating economic growth, strong business investment and rising inflation.

“They’ve got expectations pretty much where they want them,” said Michael Feroli, an economist with JPMorgan. “They may need to finesse how they word the language on inflation, but I think the ultimate message is going to be the same.”

The U.S. economy grew at its fastest pace in nearly four years in the second quarter as consumers boosted spending and farmers rushed shipments of soybeans to China to beat retaliatory trade tariffs, Commerce Department data showed on Friday.

The Fed’s preferred measure of inflation – the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index excluding food and energy components- increased at a 2.0 percent pace in the second quarter, the data also showed. The latest monthly figures released on Tuesday showed prices in June were 1.9 percent higher than a year earlier.

The core PCE hit the U.S. central bank’s 2 percent inflation target in March for the first time since December 2011.

U.S. labor costs, a key measure of how much slack is left in the market, posted their largest annual gain since 2008 in the second quarter, the Labor Department said on Tuesday.

TRUMP CRITICISM

Economic growth has been buoyed by the Trump administration’s package of tax cuts and government spending, and Fed Chairman Jerome Powell has said overall the economy is in a “really good place.”

The unemployment rate stands at 4.0 percent, lower than the level seen sustainable by Fed policymakers.

The central bank is expected to continue to raise rates through 2019 but policymakers are keenly debating when the so-called “neutral rate” – the sweet spot in which monetary policy is neither expansive nor restrictive – will be hit.

Rate-setters are closely watching for signs that inflation is accelerating and they are expecting economic growth to slow as the fiscal stimulus fades.

They also remain wary of the potential effects of a protracted trade war between the United States and China which could push the cost of goods higher and hurt company investment plans.

The Fed’s policy path will see interest rates peak at much lower levels than in previous economic cycles. Even so, Trump, in a departure from usual practice that presidents do not comment on Fed policy, said he was worried growth would be hit by higher rates.

Administration officials played down the president’s comments, saying he was not seeking to influence the Fed.

On the campaign trail, Trump criticized Powell’s predecessor as Fed chief, Janet Yellen, for keeping rates too low.

Trump appointed Powell and Fed Governor Randal Quarles, and he has three other nominees to the rate-setting committee awaiting U.S. Senate confirmation. Almost all have been seen as mainstream in their attitude to economic policy. Economists say Trump has little influence over Fed policy beyond the personnel changes he has already made.

Trump’s tweets are a far cry from the 1970s when then-President Richard Nixon told the Fed chairman to kick rate setters “in the rump” to keep rates low until after an election. That stoked inflation and eventually strengthened the Fed’s independence, something that has become even more entrenched since.

“Powell is obviously someone who values the Fed’s independence,” said Paul Ashworth, an economist with Capital Economics. “I don’t expect them to change tack because of political pressure.”

(Reporting by Lindsay Dunsmuir; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Paul Simao)

Explainer: Rising U.S. inflation and what it means for markets

A man unloads vegetables at Grand Central Market in Los Angeles, California, March 9, 2015. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

By Chuck Mikolajczak and Lucia Mutikani

(Reuters) – U.S. financial markets have been roiled recently by something neither the economy nor investors have had to contend with for the better part of a decade: concerns they may soon have to reckon with rising inflation.

The S&P 500.is down more than 7 percent from its lifetime high hit on Jan. 26 through Feb. 13, after falling as much as 10.2 percent, and yields on the benchmark U.S. 10-year note have climbed to a four-year high, largely due to inflation worries.

What exactly is inflation, aside from a rise in prices for goods and services, and why is it having such a strong influence on markets?

Inflation is measured in a number of ways by various government agencies, and as long as the economy continues to expand it will be a consideration for markets.

Investors will get the latest inflation data on Thursday with the monthly Producer Price Index.

WHAT IS INFLATION AND HOW IS IT MEASURED?

While inflation decreases consumer purchasing power, a certain level of inflation is considered a reflection of a strengthening economy and the impact on consumers can be offset by rising wages.

The U.S. government publishes several inflation measures on a monthly and quarterly basis. The main measures are the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price indexes. The CPI and PCE are constructed differently and perform differently over time.

The monthly CPI, compiled by the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), measures the change in prices paid by consumers for goods and services. The BLS data is based on spending patterns of consumers and wage earners, although it excludes rural residents and members of the Armed Forces.

CPI measures the prices that consumers pay for frequently purchased items. The components are weighted to reflect their relative importance, with the weightings derived from household surveys. Some of the components of the CPI basket such as food and energy can be volatile. Stripping out food and energy from the CPI gives us the core CPI, seen as a measure of the underlying inflation trend.

The January reading on consumer prices released on Wednesday showed prices rose more than expected, up 0.5 percent versus the 0.3 percent expectation. The core reading rose 0.3 percent against the 0.2 percent forecast. Both numbers increased from the 0.2 percent reading for December.

Another reading is the Producer Price Index (PPI), which measures prices from the seller’s point of view.

The Federal Reserve, whose mandate includes price stability along with maximum employment, prefers the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price indexes constructed by the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis. PCE is considered to be more comprehensive because it includes some components that are excluded from the CPI. According to the BEA, the PCE reflects the price of expenditures made by and on behalf of households. Weights are derived from business surveys.

Housing has a greater weighting in the CPI than in the PCE index. The weighting for medical care is greater in the PCE price index than in the CPI. As with CPI, food and energy components of the PCE are volatile. Stripping them out yields the core PCE, which measures the underlying inflation trend. The core PCE is the Fed’s preferred measure for its 2 percent inflation target.

WHAT SPARKED THE RECENT INFLATION WORRY?

The government’s monthly employment report for January, released on Feb. 2, showed wages posted their largest annual gain in more than 8-1/2 years, suggesting the economy was moving closer to full employment and inflation was on the horizon.

If the economy continues to gain momentum, inflation is likely to rise further toward the Fed’s 2 percent target.

There is concern, however, that the recent U.S. tax overhaul by the Trump administration, which slashed the corporate income tax rate and cut personal income tax rates, could cause an economy that may be nearing full capacity to overheat and prompt the Fed to become more aggressive than anticipated in its course of interest rate hikes.

Markets are pricing in an 87.5 percent chance of a quarter-point increase at the U.S. central bank’s next policy meeting in March. The Fed has forecast three hikes this year, after raising rates three times in 2017.

Some market participants are unsure about how swiftly the Fed will react to inflation and market turbulence under its new chair, Jerome Powell. The March meeting will be the first since Powell took over from Janet Yellen. Recent comments from some Fed officials suggested the possibility of more hikes should the economy continue to strengthen.

HOW HAS INFLATION AFFECTED MARKETS?

Many analysts believe the stock market was overdue for a pullback because valuations, as measured against corporate earnings, have been rich by historic standards, and that the employment data showed economic fundamentals underpinning stocks are strong. Inflation has yet to rise to concerning levels, and as long as the pace remains modest, stocks have room to climb.

Healthy economic growth, along with U.S. deficit spending and moves by central banks around the world to lift interest rates from ultra-low levels, has driven U.S. bond yields to a four-year high. Rising yields could dent the attractiveness of high dividend-paying stocks to investors and trigger increased borrowing costs for U.S. companies and households, which could crimp economic growth.

The initial reaction to the CPI data on Wednesday was sharp, with S&P 500 e-mini futures <ESc1> falling to a session low of 2,627 while yields on the benchmark U.S. 10-year note <US10YT=RR> rose as high as 2.891 percent. The dollar initially spiked higher against a basket of major currencies <.DXY> before weakening.

However, stocks recovered and turned positive shortly after the opening bell and yields on the 10-year note eased.

A strengthening currency would normally go hand-in-hand with an improving economy, yet the U.S. dollar is near four-year lows even after a recent uptick. Some of the weakness has been attributed to anticipation of scaling back in stimulus measures by central banks other than the Fed.

If the U.S. economy fails to show any meaningful uptick in inflation as currently feared, that could tie the Fed’s hands when it comes to interest rate hikes and drag the dollar lower.

(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Additional reporting by Richard Leong; Editing by Alden Bentley and Leslie Adler)

FedEx commits $3.2 billion to raise pay, expand hubs after U.S. tax overhaul

A FedEx Express Boeing 737-45D (BDSF) OO-TNN aircraft is seen at the Chopin International Airport in Warsaw, Poland January 8, 2018. Picture taken on January 8, 2018.

By Eric M. Johnson

(Reuters) – Package delivery company FedEx Corp said on Friday it will spend more than $3.2 billion on wage increases, bonuses, pension funding and capital investment, taking advantage of the U.S. tax overhaul signed into law in December.

The Memphis, Tennessee-based company said it would invest $1.5 billion to significantly expand its hub in Indianapolis over the next seven years and modernize and enlarge its Memphis SuperHub.

The new tax code allows companies to immediately write off the full value of capital costs, which helps make projects more financially attractive, but that benefit starts to phase out in 2023. It also permanently lowers the U.S. corporate rate to 21 percent from 35 percent.

The announcement makes FedEx the latest U.S. company to promise higher pay for workers, citing the tax cuts.

FedEx, which said the recent tax changes would likely boost economic growth and investment in the United States, also said it would contribute $1.5 billion to an employee pension plan.

The company plans more than $200 million in higher compensation, about two-thirds of which will go to hourly employees with the remainder funding increases in performance-based incentive plans for salaried workers.

FedEx shares were down 0.3 percent in morning trading.

(Reporting by Rachit Vats in Bengaluru, Eric M. Johnson in Seattle, and Nick Carey in Detroit; Editing by Arun Koyyur and Meredith Mazzilli)

Wall Street kicks off 2018 on a strong note

The trading floor is seen on the final day of trading for the year at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in Manhattan, New York, U.S., December 29, 2017

By Sruthi Shankar

(Reuters) – Wall Street’s main indexes were higher on Tuesday, the first trading day of the year, buoyed by gains in technology and consumer discretionary stocks.

Major stock indexes closed out 2017 with their best performance since 2013, powered by a combination of strong economic growth, solid corporate earnings, low interest rates and hopes of corporate tax cuts.

“The first week of trading usually suggests the overall trend of the markets which we expect to be positive,” Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at First Standard Financial in New York, wrote in a note.

Oil prices hovered near their mid-2015 highs on Tuesday amid large anti-government rallies in major exporter Iran and ongoing supply cuts led by OPEC and Russia.

Gold and copper prices continued their upward march, but the greenback began the year on the back foot, with the dollar index slipping to its weakest level since September.

“While we don’t expect the Iranian unrest to reach a full blown political situation just yet, the protest will add to an already positive uptrend in oil and gold prices,” Cardillo said.

December payrolls report, data on manufacturing and service sectors are among leading indicators expected during the week, and will be scrutinized for signs of improving economic health and the number of interest rate hikes this year.

Minutes from the Federal Reserve’s December meeting, when the central bank raised rates for the fourth time since the 2008 financial crisis, will be issued on Wednesday.

At 9:34 a.m. ET (1434 GMT), the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 112.06 points, or 0.45 percent, at 24,831.28 and the S&P 500 was up 9.49 points, or 0.35 percent, at 2,683.1. The Nasdaq Composite was up 21.51 points, or 0.31 percent, at 6,924.90.

Six of the 11 major S&P sectors were higher, led by gains in technology and consumer discretionary stocks.

Shares of Walt Disney rose 1.6 percent, giving the biggest boost to the Dow, after brokerage Macquire upgraded the company’s stock to “outperform”.

Netflix and Discovery Communications also rose on positive recommendations from Macquire.

Shares of casino operators Wynn resorts, Las Vegas Sands and Melco Resorts Entertainment were down after a report showed lower-than-expected rise in Macau gambling revenue in December.

Abbott Labs jumped 2.6 percent after JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley upgraded the healthcare company’s stock to “overweight”.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 1,938 to 652. On the Nasdaq, 1,678 issues rose and 743 fell.

(Reporting by Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila)

U.S. retail sales post biggest drop in 16 months

A shopper passes a window display at the Beverly Center mall in Los Angeles, California November 8, 2013. REUTERS/David McNew

WASHINGTON, June 14 (Reuters) – U.S. retail sales recorded their biggest drop in more than a year in May amid declining purchases of motor vehicles and discretionary spending, which could temper expectations for a sharp acceleration in economic growth in the second quarter.

The Commerce Department said on Wednesday retail sales fell 0.3 percent last month after an unrevised 0.4 percent increase in April. May’s decline was the largest since January 2016 and confounded economists’ expectation for a 0.1 percent gain.

Retail sales rose 3.8 percent in May on a year-on-year basis. Some of the drop in monthly retail sales reflected lower gasoline prices, which weighed on receipts at service stations.

Excluding automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services, retail sales were unchanged last month after an upwardly revised 0.6 percent rise in April.

These so-called core retail sales correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product and were previously reported to have increased 0.2 percent in April.

Growth is expected to pick up this quarter after being held back by a near stall in consumer spending and a slower pace of inventory investment at the start of the year.

The economy grew at a 1.2 percent annualized rate in the first quarter after notching a 2.1 percent pace in the October-December period.

The Atlanta Fed is forecasting the economy growing at a 3.0 percent annualized rate in the second quarter, but this estimate could be trimmed following the weak core retail sales.

May’s surprise sluggishness in consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of the U.S. economy, could worry Federal Reserve officials who have previously attributed the slowdown in domestic demand to transitory factors.

Still, the U.S. central bank is expected to raise interest rates by 25 basis points later on Wednesday, the second increase this year. Further rate hikes are likely to depend on the outlook for inflation and economic growth.

Auto sales fell 0.2 percent after rising 0.5 percent in April. Receipts at service stations dropped 2.4 percent, the largest decline since February 2016. Sales at building material stores were unchanged, while receipts at clothing stores rose 0.3 percent.

Department store sales tumbled 1.0 percent, the largest drop since July 2016. Department store sales are being undercut by online retailers, led by Amazon.com <AMZN.O>. That has led some retailers, including Macy’s <M.N>, Sears <SHLD.O> and Abercrombie & Fitch <ANF.N> to announce shop closures.

Sales at online retailers increased 0.8 percent last month after rising 0.9 percent in April. Sales at electronics and appliance stores plunged 2.8 percent, the largest drop since March 2010.

Receipts at restaurants and bars dipped 0.1 percent, while sales at sporting goods and hobby stores fell 0.6 percent.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

Fourth-quarter economic growth revised higher, boosted by consumer spending

Commuters wait to ride New York City Subway in New York, December 12, 2013. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. economic growth slowed less than previously reported in the fourth quarter as robust consumer spending spurred the largest increase in imports in two years.

Gross domestic product increased at a 2.1 percent annualized rate instead of the previously reported 1.9 percent pace, the Commerce Department said on Thursday in its third GDP estimate for the period. The economy grew at a 3.5 percent rate in the third quarter.

The government also said that corporate profits after tax with inventory valuation and capital consumption adjustments increased at an annual rate of 2.3 percent in the fourth quarter after rising at a 6.7 percent pace in the previous three months.

Profits were held back by a $4.95 billion settlement between the U.S. subsidiary of Volkswagen AG <VOWG_p.DE> and the U.S. federal and state governments for violation of environmental regulations.

Data on trade as well as consumer and construction spending suggest that economic growth moderated further at the start of 2017. The Atlanta Federal Reserve is forecasting GDP rising at a rate of 1.0 percent in the first quarter.

With the labor market near full employment, the data likely understate the health of the economy. GDP tends to be weaker in the first quarter because of calculation issues the government has acknowledged and is trying to resolve.

A separate report from the Labor Department on Thursday showed initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 258,000 for the week ended March 25.

Claims have now been below 300,000, a threshold associated with a healthy labor market for 108 straight weeks. That is the longest stretch since 1970 when the labor market was smaller.

The economy grew 1.6 percent for all of 2016, its worst performance since 2011, after expanding 2.6 percent in 2015.

Prices of U.S. government debt fell after the data. U.S. stock index futures pared losses, as did the U.S. dollar <.DXY> against a basket of currencies.

STRONG IMPORT GROWTH The moderate economic expansion poses a challenge to President Donald Trump, who has vowed to boost annual growth to 4 percent by slashing taxes, increasing infrastructure spending and cutting regulations. The Trump administration has offered few details on its economic policies.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected fourth-quarter GDP would be revised up to a 2.0 percent rate.

Growth in consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, was revised up to a 3.5 percent rate in the fourth quarter. It was previously reported to have risen at a 3.0 percent rate.

Some of the increase in demand was satiated with imports, which increased at a 9.0 percent rate. That was the biggest rise since the fourth quarter of 2014 and was an upward revision from the 8.5 percent pace reported last month.

Exports declined more than previously estimated, leaving a trade deficit that subtracted 1.82 percentage point from GDP growth instead of the previously reported 1.70 percentage points.

There was an upward revision to inventory investment. Businesses accumulated inventories at a rate of $49.6 billion in the last quarter, instead of the previously reported $46.2 billion. Inventory investment added 1.01 percentage point to GDP growth, up from the 0.94 percentage point estimated last month.

Business investment was revised lower to reflect a more modest pace of spending on intellectual property, which increased at a 1.3 percent rate instead of the previously estimated 4.5 percent rate.

There were no revisions to spending on equipment. Investment in nonresidential structures was revised to show it falling at a less steep 1.9 percent pace in the fourth quarter. It was previously reported to have declined at a 4.5 percent rate.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)