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Inflation expectations ease, while spending outlook tumbles, Fed consumer survey shows

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A gasoline nozzle pumps gas into a vehicle in Los Angeles, California on August 23, 2022.
Frederic J. Brown | AFP | Getty Images

Inflation expectations and the outlook for household spending growth fell sharply in September as the Federal Reserve’s rate increases take hold in the U.S. economy.

Consumers expect the inflation rate a year from now to be 5.4%, the lowest number in a year and a decline from 5.75% in August, according to the latest New York Fed Survey of Consumer Expectations.

That level peaked at 6.8% in June and has been coming down since as the central bank has instituted a series of rate hikes totaling 3 percentage points. Markets largely expect the Fed to continue raising rates until it brings inflation down to its long-run target of 2%.

While the near-term outlook for inflation was improving, respondents also indicated that they see household spending growth of 6% for the next year, a steep fall from August’s 7.8% projection. That’s the lowest level since January and the biggest one-month decline ever in a data series going back to June 2013.

Consumers have been somewhat constrained by price increases moving near their fastest level in more than 40 years. Personal consumption expenditures in inflation-adjusted dollars rose just 0.1% in August while the savings rate declined, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Respondents did put a slightly higher number on their outlook for three-year inflation, moving that forecast to 2.9%, up 0.1 percentage point from August. Median five-year expectations moved up to 2.2%, an increase of 0.2 percentage point but much closer to the Fed’s goal.

Elsewhere in the survey, respondents said they expect home prices to increase by just 2%, the lowest reading since June 2020 and reflective of a slowing real estate market. Consumers see gas prices increasing by half a percentage point, and food to surge by 6.9%, a full percentage point increase from August’s survey.

The numbers come as the central bank is looking to arrest a cost-of-living surge pushed by pandemic-related factors such as supply chain clogs. Unprecedented levels of fiscal and monetary stimulus also coincided with the inflation surge. The Fed has pulled back on its efforts, raising rates and beginning to reduce the size of the bond portfolio on its mammoth $8.8 trillion balance sheet.

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