Economists have been waiting for a surge in consumer spending fueled by savings at the gas pump and a stronger job market boosting personal incomes. They’re going to have to keep waiting.
The Commerce Department on Monday said personal spending was essentially flat in April —it fell less than 0.1 percent — even as personal income rose a better-than-expected 0.4 percent. Americans made more money in April but they didn’t spend more. Instead, they socked it away, raising the savings rate — personal savings as a percentage of disposable income — from 5.2 percent in March to 5.6 percent in April.
The April spending picture was the reverse of that from March, when incomes growth stalled but spending rose. Overall, though, Americans still look to be hesitant about opening up their wallets.
“This report clearly indicates that the bounce back in March did not continue into April,” Chris G. Christopher, Jr., director of consumer economics at HIS Global Insight, said in a note to clients. “It is becoming blatantly obvious that the so-called consumer gasoline price dividend is not motivating the average American household to increase their discretionary spending in any meaningful manner.”
Energy prices have risen lately, but they are still down 20 percent from where they were a year ago, notes PNC Senior Macroeconomist Gus Faucher. Eventually, that should still translate to more spending as long as the job market recovery continues apace.
“Clearly, consumption is hardly booming, but the lag between declines in gas prices and the response in the spending numbers is long, typically six or seven months,” Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomcs, said in a note to clients. “Gas prices did begin to fall rapidly until November, with the biggest single drop in January, so we don't expect to see consumption accelerate properly until the summer.”
For now, the economists — and the economy — keep waiting.
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The U.S. could save billions of dollars a year if Medicare were empowered to negotiate drug prices directly with pharmaceutical companies, according to a paper published by JAMA Internal Medicine earlier this week. Researchers compared the prices of the top 50 oral drugs in Medicare Part D to the prices for the same drugs at the Department of Veterans Affairs, which negotiates its own prices and uses a national formulary. They found that Medicare’s total spending was much higher than it would have been with VA pricing.
In 2016, for example, Medicare Part D spent $32.5 billion on the top 50 drugs but would have spent $18 billion if VA prices were in effect – or roughly 45 percent less. And the savings would likely be larger still, Axios’s Bob Herman said, since the study did not consider high-cost injectable drugs such as insulin.
It may be small beer compared to the problems faced by unemployed federal workers and the growing cost for the overall economy, but the ongoing government shutdown is putting a serious crimp in the craft brewing industry. Small-batch brewers tend to produce new products on a regular basis, The Wall Street Journal’s Ruth Simon says, but each new formulation and product label needs to be approved by the Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which is currently closed. So it looks like you’ll have to wait a while to try the new version of Hemperor HPA from Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing, a hoppy brew that will include hemp seeds once the shutdown is over.
The amount spent on medical marketing reached $30 billion in 2016, up from $18 billion in 1997, according to a new analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and highlighted by the Associated Press. The number of advertisements for prescription drugs appearing on television, newspapers, websites and elsewhere totaled 5 million in one year, accounting for $6 billion in marketing spending. Direct-to-consumer marketing grew the fastest, rising from $2 billion, or 12 percent of total marketing, to nearly $10 billion, or a third of spending. “Marketing drives more treatments, more testing” that patients don’t always need, Dr. Steven Woloshin, a Dartmouth College health policy expert and co-author of the study, told the AP.
An overwhelming majority of registered voters say they want the president and Congress to “compromise to avoid prolonging the government shutdown” in a new The Hill-HarrisX poll. Seven in ten respondents said they preferred the parties reach some sort of deal to end the standoff, while 30 percent said it was more important to stick to principles, even if it means keeping parts of the government shutdown. Voters who “strongly approve” of Trump (a slim 21 percent of respondents) favored him sticking to his principles over the wall by a narrow 54 percent-46 percent margin. Voters who “somewhat approve” of the president favored a compromise solution by a 70-30 margin. Among Republicans overall, 61 percent said they wanted a compromise.
The survey of 1,000 registered voters was conducted January 5 and 6 and has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.