Friday, March 27, 2009

February PCE and Personal Saving Rate

by Calculated Risk on 3/27/2009 08:26:00 AM

The BEA released the Personal Income and Outlays report for February this morning. The report shows that PCE will probably make a positive contribution to GDP in Q1 2009.

Each quarter I've been estimating PCE growth based on the Two Month method. This method is based on the first two months of each quarter and has provided a very close estimate for the actual quarterly PCE growth.

Some background: The BEA releases Personal Consumption Expenditures monthly and quarterly, as part of the GDP report (also released separately quarterly).

You can use the monthly series to exactly calculate the quarterly change in real PCE. The quarterly change is not calculated as the change from the last month of one quarter to the last month of the next. Instead, you have to average all three months of a quarter, and then take the change from the average of the three months of the preceding quarter.

So, for Q1 2009, you would average real PCE for January, February, and March, then divide by the average for October, November and December. Of course you need to take this to the fourth power (for the annual rate) and subtract one.

The March data isn't released until after the advance Q1 GDP report. But we can use the change from October to January, and the change from November to February (the Two Month Estimate) to approximate PCE growth for Q1.

The two month method suggests real PCE growth in Q1 of 0.8% (annualized). Not much, but a significant improvement from the previous two quarters (declines of -3.8% and -4.3% in PCE).

The following graph shows this calculation:

Real PCE Click on graph for larger image in new window.

This graph shows real PCE for the last 12 months. The Y-axis doesn't start at zero to better show the change.

The dashed red line shows the comparison between January and October. The dashed green line shows the comparison between February and November.

Since PCE was weak in December, the March to December comparison will probably be positive too.

This graph also show the declines in PCE in Q3 and Q4.

For Q3, compare July through September with April through June. Notice the sharp decline in PCE. The same was true in Q4.

This suggests that PCE will make a positive contribution to GDP in Q1.

Also interesting:

Personal saving -- DPI less personal outlays -- was $450.7 billion in February, compared with $478.1 billion in January. Personal saving as a percentage of disposable personal income was 4.2 percent in February, compared with 4.4 percent in January.
This is substantially above the near zero percent saved of recent years.

Personal Saving Rate This graph shows the saving rate starting in 1959 (using a three month centered average for smoothing).

Although this data may be revised significantly, this does suggest households are saving substantially more than during the last few years (when they saving rate was close to zero). This is a necessary but painful step ... and a rising saving rate will repair balance sheets, but also keep downward pressure on personal consumption.

It is not much, but this is definitely a positive report.