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People spent a lot more in January, according to the Commerce Department, and that spending was broad. They spent more on services like restaurants and health care, along with goods like vehicles, furniture and clothing.
The thing is, the personal saving rate also rose in January. In fact, it’s increased four months in a row.
The Commerce Department figures out the monthly saving rate by taking people’s disposable income and subtracting their spending.
And even though spending rose in January, disposable income did too.
“We saw that rise about 2% in January, which outpaced spending, which is why the overall saving rate moved higher,” said Shannon Seery, an economist at Wells Fargo. She said much of last month’s increase in income had to do with one-off factors, including the way the Commerce Department calculates taxes in January and the recent cost-of-living adjustment to Social Security.
But Seery also said individuals’ take-home pay has been steadily rising.
“So, I do think that the savings situation is improving, and that is a good indication that households do have some spending power in the months ahead,” she said.
The issue is that households have different amounts of spending power. Megan Greene, global chief economist at the Kroll Institute, said lower-income households are burning through their savings at faster rates.
Meanwhile, credit card balances have been rising.
“That suggests some households are really struggling to make ends meet and are just putting expenses on credit cards,” Greene said. She added that people have been steadily spending down the savings they built up early in the pandemic with the help of government relief aid.
In fact, the current saving rate is below where it was in 2019, “which suggests that households are still eating into their savings more than they usually are,” Greene said.
The saving rate could continue to rise this year, given that the job market is still strong and wages are improving.
“If you look at labor market conditions right now, you can see that the labor market is still providing some support for household income,” said Lydia Boussour, senior economist at EY-Parthenon.
But, Boussour said, spending could slow down. If the economy starts looking more uncertain this year, “companies are going to be turning increasingly cautious with their hiring and spending. And that’s likely to lead consumers to be even more cautious with their spending.”
Which could cause the saving rate to rise even more, Boussour said.
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