Updated March 25 at 6:25am
economic indicators

Consumer spending climbs more than forecast on U.S. services


NEW YORK - Consumer spending in the U.S. rose more than projected in March, reflecting a jump in outlays for services that is unlikely to be repeated, signaling the biggest part of the economy will soften this quarter.

Household purchases, which account for about 70 percent of the economy, climbed 0.2 percent after a 0.7 percent gain the prior month, a Commerce Department report showed today in Washington. The median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of 74 economists called for spending to be little changed. Incomes increased less than forecast and inflation cooled to the lowest level in more than three years.

Cooler-than-normal temperatures last month may have temporarily boosted spending and utilities, just as the increase in the payroll tax that took effect in January is starting to inflict more damage. A slower pace of growth and less inflation means Federal Reserve policy makers will probably confirm they’ll keep pumping money into financial markets after they meet this week.

The “surprisingly strong consumer spending is not going to continue,” Michael Carey, chief economist for North America at Credit Agricole CIB in New York, said before the report. “Things will be slower this quarter. We’re going to need more broad-based increases in employment and income.”

Stock-index futures held earlier gains after the report. The contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index climbed 0.3 percent to 1,581.3 at 8:33 a.m. in New York.

Survey results

Projections for spending in the Bloomberg survey ranged from a 0.2 percent drop to gains of 0.4 percent.

Incomes increased 0.2 percent in March after climbing 1.1 percent the prior month. The Bloomberg survey median called for incomes to rise 0.4 percent.

The saving rate held at 2.7 percent. The rate averaged 2.6 percent in the first quarter, the lowest since the last three months 2007.

Wages and salaries rose 0.2 percent after climbing 0.7 percent in February. Disposable income, or the money left over after taxes, rose 0.3 percent after adjusting for inflation. It climbed 0.7 percent in the prior month.

Adjusting consumer spending for inflation, which renders the figures used to calculate gross domestic product, purchases rose 0.3 percent for a second month, today’s report showed.

Utility use

Price-adjusted spending on services jumped 0.6 percent, the most since October 2001. The increase probably reflects outlays on utilities, reflecting colder-than-normal temperatures. The average temperature last month was 40.8 degrees Fahrenheit (4.9 degrees Celsius), making it the coolest March since 2002, according to the National Climatic Data Center.

An index of inflation tied to spending patterns increased 1 percent from a year earlier, the smallest gain since October 2009.

The economy grew at a 2.5 percent annualized rate in the first quarter, less than the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg, limited by a drop in defense outlays, figures showed yesterday. Consumer spending gained 3.2 percent, the most since the fourth quarter of 2010.

The lagged effect from a two percentage-point jump in the payroll tax at the start of 2013, and $85 billion in automatic budget cuts that began March 1, mean economic growth will weaken to a 1.5 percent pace this quarter, according to a Bloomberg survey taken April 5 to April 9. The economy will then reaccelerate to an average 2.4 percent rate in the last six months of the year, economists in the survey predicted.

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