Julia Coronado: Higher personal incomes did not boost consumer spending

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BOB MOON: To help us sort this all out, let's turn to Julia Coronado. She's senior U.S. economist at BNP Paribas in New York. Good morning, Julia -- and let's start with why there wasn't more spending last month when we had more money in our wallets. That was thanks to a tax cut, as I understand it?

JULIA CORONADO: Right, the jump in income from the payroll tax holiday that got put in place in January. And what the report tells us is that consumers are actually pretty prudent and cautious. They saved a lot of that increase in take home pay.

MOON: Now these numbers reflect what was happening before energy prices really took off. Are there any clues in these numbers of how resistant the economy might be to another gasoline-price shock?

CORONADO: Well, I think some of the cooling in consumer spending does reflect that. Consumers have been facing higher food and energy prices for the last few months. And as you note, they're looking forward to even further increases in the months ahead. So they're starting to become a little bit more cautious. They loosened up their wallets a little bit for the holidays, but not they seem to be pulling back a bit and starting the year on a cautious note.

MOON: Very quickly -- there's a headline on the New York Times website this morning suggesting that easier credit is behind a rise in auto sales. That's good news, yes?

CORONADO: It is good news. It's good news that consumers who want and can afford cars can actually get them financed. I don't think that's necessarily -- given how cautious consumers are -- going to lead to a huge surge. But it does say that consumers again, who are interested, can find the financing, and that certainly is a welcome development.

MOON: Julia Coronado is senior U.S. economist at BNP Paribas in New York. Thanks for your insights.

CORONADO: My Pleasure.

About the author

Bob Moon is Marketplace’s senior business correspondent, based in Los Angeles.

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