Insights from the 11-21-23 Commercial Pulse Report – GDP up, inflation down, consumer spending strong

Published: November 20, 2023 by Marsha Silverman

The aggressive interest rate hikes instituted by the Federal Reserve over the past year and a half may have achieved the desired goal. Easing inflation (3.2% in October) and strong GDP growth (4.9% in Q3) are some of the first indications that the economy may experience the “soft landing” hoped for instead of a recession.

The consistently strong labor market produced low unemployment and increasing wages, enabling personal spending to increase. However, while spending continues to grow, the growth rate is on a downward trend. The high rate of spending has been driven by consumers digging into savings and borrowing more. As savings dwindle and the cost to borrow increases, it is likely that consumers will retreat and the pull-back will likely hit discretionary categories first.

What I am watching:

Heading into the holiday season, consumer spending is still strong but how long will it last? The National Retail Federation is projecting that November and December retail sales will grow 3-4% which is in line with the 3.6% average increase from 2010-2019 but lower than the past three years. People are already dipping into savings and borrowing more to continue their consumption but that well will run dry at some point. In addition, 36% of consumers cite December is a month for seasonal financial distress, according to PYMNTS.

While consumers may continue spending through the holiday season, the tide may turn in early 2024 when bills hit with higher interest rates.

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