Consumer spending was flat in September and below expectations as inflation takes toll

Customers shop at the GU Co. store in the SoHo neighborhood of New York, US, on Friday, Oct. 7, 2022.

Gabby Jones | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Consumer spending was flat in September as prices moved sharply higher and the Federal Reserve implemented higher interest rates to slow the economy, according to government figures released Thursday.

Retail and food services sales were little changed for the month after rising 0.4% in August, according to the advance estimate from the Commerce Department. That was below the Dow Jones estimate for a 0.3% gain. Excluding autos, sales rose 0.1%, against an estimate for no change.

Considering that the retail sales numbers are not adjusted for inflation, the report shows that real spending across the range of sectors the report covers retreated for the month.

A Bureau of Labor Statistics report Thursday indicated that consumer prices rose 0.4% including all goods and services, and 0.6% when excluding food and energy.

Miscellaneous store retailers saw a decline of 2.5% for the month, while gasoline stations were off 1.4% as energy prices declined.

A slew of other sectors also posted drops, including sporting goods, hobby, books and music stores as well as furniture and home furnishing stores, both of which posted a -0.7% drop, while electronics and appliances were off 0.8% and motor vehicle and parts dealers fell 0.4%.

General merchandise store sales rose 0.7%. Gainers also included online stores, bars and restaurants, clothing retailers and health and personal care stores, all of which saw 0.5% increases.

While the gains for the month were muted, retail sales rose 8.2% from a year ago, matching the rise in the consumer price index. Shoppers remain generally flush with cash though there are indications of late that they are dipping into savings to make ends meet.

The Fed has enacted multiple interest rate hikes aimed at reducing inflation and bringing the economy back into balance. Markets expect the central bank to raise rates up to 1.5 percentage points more through the end of the year.

A separate report Thursday showed that import prices fell 1.2% in September, slightly more than the 1.1% estimate. Exports declined 0.8%.